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HBO, Showtime, Sue Over ‘Pirate’ Descrambling Chip

March 4, 1987

MIAMI (AP) _ Cable broadcasters and equipment companies Wednesday filed a $5 million suit against a company and four individuals who allegedly promoted a ″pirate″ computer chip that descrambles satellite signals.

The suit names as defendants Network Productions Inc., of New Jersey, along with Bob Cooper Jr., Shaun Kenny, Karen J.P. Howes and Stephen Bepko. The suit did not provide hometowns for the four people or the company.

″They manufactured a chip that talked to the satellite and convinced it the dish was of a paying subscriber,″ said the plaintiff’s attorney, Sanford L. Bohrer. ″They were unlawfully taking our clients’ property.″

He said he did not know how many chips were sold, but ″I just know it was serious enough for our clients to put a stop to it.″

The suit was filed by Cable Home Communications, a subsidiary of General Instruments Corp.; Ma-Com Inc., of Burlington, Mass., which makes descramblers; Home Box Office Inc. and Showtime-The Movie Channel Inc.

Many of the major cable broadcasters began scrambling their signals last year to prevent satellite dish owners from receiving their broadcasts for free. Dish owners can receive shows legally by buying a descrambler for about $400 and paying a monthly fee equal to the cost of subscribing to the channels.

The suit says Network Productions produced a weekly television program, ″Boresight,″ aimed at satellite dish owners, and one of the programs promoted a ″descrambling summit″ in the Turks and Caicos Islands in January.

Customers paid $1,500 and were flown by private plane from Fort Lauderdale to the island country, southeast of the Bahamas, the suit said. There they were provided there with a ″pirate chip.″

Many of the chips were confiscated by U.S. Customs Service inspectors when the attendees returned to Florida.

They asked for an injunction against manufacture and sale of the chips, reimbursement for actual damages and $5 million in punitive damages under the U.S. Communications Act and the Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization law.

Bohrer said recent amendments in the statutes make it easier to prosecute people who make unauthorized use of the satellite signal.

″The point is that in this day and age, technology makes it possible to do things you couldn’t do before,″ said Bohrer.

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