The short answer: YES. DirecTV is cracking down on Commercial Misuse over the last year and a half, particularly misuse of NFL Sunday Ticket, resulting in huge fines. Previously DirecTV had limited its focus to just those who were using “Pirate” boxes or illegal access cards to get at its content. Now, DirecTV is unleashing its “Office of Signal Integrity” on commercial businesses large and small, especially sports bars, showing its content without paying for a commercial subscription. It even maintains an anti-piracy website www.hackhu.com listing all of its recent settlements and judgments against those both violating the piracy rules and what they have dubbed “Commercial Misuse” ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 settlement awards.
DirecTV has two different types of subscriptions, residential or commercial. The residential rates range from $30 per month to about $90 per month. In contrast, the minimum commercial package starts at $151.99 per month and maxes out at $361.99 depending on the size of your establishment. Add in the fact that commercial NFL Sunday Ticket prices range from $869 per season all the way to $45,799 based on your establishments fire code occupancy, you can see why business are trying to avoid paying for commercial licenses.
However, DirecTV has been making these business pay, and in a big way. Its anti-hacking website lists dozens of examples of $50,000+ settlements for violations of showing DirecTV programming without paying its commercial license rates. DirecTV also has not limited its blitzkrieg to large commercial bars, small mom and pop establishments are getting slapped down with four and five digit fines. Its main cause of action is based on 47 U.S.C. §605 “Unauthorized Publication or Use of Communications” which sets out damages of $1,000 to $100,000.
DirecTV has been smart about gathering its evidence and making sure that it can prove its case, but never actually has to. By forcing violators to settle regardless of how “innocent” or “grievous” their violation is out of fear of exorbitant legal fees, DirecTV manages to keep its claim of action intact and unchallenged by an actual fact finding hearing. DirecTV knows that it will be successful in summary judgment, be awarded the statutory fees as well as attorney’s fees. So, all of you small businesses, especially bars, that think that you are saving a few bucks a month by not paying for the commercial license, you are playing with fire, and one day soon may end up with a demand for a $50,000+ settlement to avoid a protracted law suit. If you get one of these demand letters make sure to contact an attorney and see if at the very least the damage can be minimized.