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Acquittal of satellite decoders highlights need for legal reform

By Luis C. Schmidt
Partner
World Copyright Law Report, May 10 2007
Unitary Court in Criminal Affairs in Mexico City has confirmed a resolution acquitting two individuals that installed satellite-dish equipment to their client’s television receivers with the intention of picking up satellite television signals from carriers such as Sky and Dish Networks.
The criminal investigation originated from an action filed by Televisa, a large television producer in Mexico, before the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. It was followed by a search and warrant order executed by district attorneys, with the purpose of investigating whether the defendants had (i)used copyrighted content transmitted by satellite broadcasting, and (ii)intercepted a satellite television signal, without the carrier’s consent.
The court’s decision reiterates that the penal laws of Mexico are not exhaustive enough to enforce copyright and broadcasters’ rights over copyrighted contents, including satellite television signals. In the first place, there is the question of whether hackers or pirates that install equipment to receive satellite programmes are using copyrighted works under the Copyright Act, or whether they are making reproductions of programmes to be viewed on television sets. Likewise, provisions in the Penal Code designed to protect satellite television signals are restrictive and thereby difficult to enforce in situations such as this. In general terms, the code prohibits the making or sale of devices or systems that encode or decode satellite signal without the carrier’s authorization. However, this leaves content producers with little scope to protect their works, as it is very difficult to demonstrate that pirates have used or reproduced their content. In addition, content producers cannot bring claims related to the encoding of satellite signals, since they are not actually the broadcasters of the programmes.
This situation shows that the Copyright Act and the Penal Code require urgent amendments in order to protect the rights of content producers from those who make or sell devices to decode signals carrying copyright contents.