General Question

Enforcer's avatar

Is decrypting satellite illegal?

Asked by Enforcer (281points) August 27th, 2010

Please don’t say it is because you think it is. I have been unable to find a law specifically declaring the act illegal. I believe satellite companies tried to use the DMCA to prosecute people doing this act, but that is kind of a broad stretch of the law. I have heard it is currently “undetermined” or a “grey area”

I am not talking about modifying the satellite companies equipment (that would be vandalism and thus illegal). I am talking about buying your OWN equipment.

I can not see how passively listening in on a signal without physically altering, damaging, or tapping into a physical medium owned by the company is illegal. After all I am only passively listening to the signal broadcasted over the air.

Anyone care to elaborate or show me a law that outlines this?

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16 Answers

robmandu's avatar

Yeah, it’s illegal.

No, you don’t have to damage something physically tangible in order to break the law.

Purposely circumventing controls to access copyrighted content is what the DMCA is intended to prevent.

Lightlyseared's avatar

It’s illegal because you’re gaining access to something you haven’t paid for.

Enforcer's avatar


That’s a very nieve answer. It dosen’t matter if it is “stealing”, it matters what the law is. the law just dosen’t simply go “You’re not paying for it, so it’s illegal”


The DMCA was originally intended to protect copyrights and copyrighted works. Decrypting the signal has nothing to do with a copyright. By the way courts recently ruled that consumers have the right to circumvent DRM for “fair use”

Lightlyseared's avatar

You’re not decrypting the signal though are you? You’re decrypting the data carried by the signal which is copyrighted. Should you end up trying these arguments in a court I doubt you’d get very far with them however much rhetoric you dress them up with.

Ben_Dover's avatar

How will they catch you?

As for a court of law, it is up to the prosecution to prove its case.

lillycoyote's avatar

Maybe this guy can tell you. It seems to be his specialty. There seem to be a lot of grey areas in the law surrounding this and you may not be able to get a clear yes or no answer from anyone.

MissA's avatar

Haven’t y’all seen those cable commercials where they take away the average upscale mom or dad in hand cuffs for watching unpaid cable? It’ll scare the bejeebers out of you…if you have kids, a job or live in a neighborhood. Good luck with it though.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

When you obtain access to programming which is protected by copyright by circumventing methods to protect the property rights of the owners of the materials, you demonstrate the intent to steal property which is not rightly yours to use, This is not “fair use.” Rationalizations may make you feel better about stealing but it does not make it legal.

The owners of copyrights can probably afford the legal teams necessary to defend their legal rights. Can you?

MissA's avatar

Besides, do you want to run around disconnecting cables every time someone rings the doorbell?

And, what YOU said, Dr. Lawrence.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Enforcer I would disagree that @Lightlyseared‘s answer is naive (I so tried to resist this one, but I just can’t seem to do it, so… if you are going to accuse someone of being naive you might, in the future, take the trouble, make the effort, to at least spell the word correctly.) I’m not an attorney but apparently neither are you, and people have been prosecuted for “theft of services” for accessing cable and other providers’ content without paying for it and and people have been sued for copyright infringement so it is at not at all naive or unreasonable for @Lightlyseared to have made this argument. If you want legal advice then consult a professional and pay for his or her services. If you want to come on a place like fluther and ferret around, then you are going to get what you get.

Enforcer's avatar


You can not put cable and satellite in the same category. Cable requires tampering with their equipment (i.e. hooking up the line). So lets keep the discussion focused to satellite please.

I’m not trying to offend anyone, this is just a discussion. I said his answer was naive because the course do not work on common sense principals such as “That is stealing, its wrong.” That is why people like that great attorney listed above exist, to get people out on loopholes. Cable and satellite have different loopholes….

I spelled naive wrong because I was too lazy to spell check :) (is it spelled right now?? Thats what spell check put)

Ben_Dover's avatar

@Enforcer Naive is spelled naive (Evian is naive backwards, which is why the bottled water company chose that name…)

The signal is freely available in the very atmosphere we breathe. If you can decrypt the signal using means other than the communication company’s devices, it is not illegal to do so.

robmandu's avatar

While I agree with @Ben_Dover that it should be legal to capture/decrypt anything broadcast in the air, I still don’t think it is.

Further, once a cable/satellite signal loads on the coax cables of your home, I think that they too should be free for you to act on as they’re on your property – no longer on cable co. equipment per sé – but of course again, it’s not (by service agreement if nothing else).

Point is, loopholes and loose interpretation can go both ways, and I could also see where the case can be made that encrypted cable/satellite signals – wherever you get them from – are part of a system to protect copyrighted works (i.e. DMCA).

lillycoyote's avatar

@Ben_Dover Do you have something, some documentation or source to back that statement up? Whatever ever anyone thinks about the rightness or wrongness of it or whether it fair or unfair it is a Federal Crime, I believe.

and may also be illegal under statutes in the state in which you, or @Enforcer resides. It’s a crime in a category commonly referred to as “theft of services.” It is also illegal to manufacture and posses devices for the purposes of decrypting the signal, I believe. There are some grey areas in the law, and I’m sure as hell no expert, but if anyone’s going to do it, they really should talk to an attorney because I think it’s a Class C felony something that can subject to criminal charges and civil suits. But that’s up to you guys. I question authority with the best of them, but I prefer not being in jail and not paying huge fines and not having a criminal record and not being sued to the alternative, but that’s just me.

Ben_Dover's avatar

@lillycoyote No citation, but nonetheless it is obvious that naive spelled backwards is evian, and Evian water Co. was making a play on words, laughing at fools willing to spend money on bottled water.

claudi's avatar

quote by Ben_Dover: ”(Evian is naive backwards, which is why the bottled water company chose that name…)

Amusing idea, but complete cobblers. It’s simply named after the town in France where the company is based: Évian-les-Bains, which has been famous as a spa town since the 19th century.

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