Legal Question in Technology Law in Florida
cable tv descrambler box
I am involved in selling the cable descrambler boxes in the state of florida. Federal law states that it is legal to sell and possess these units as long as its not with the intent to steal cable tv signals. I have my customers sign a hold harmless indicating that it is illegal to steal cable and that it is there responsibility to notify the cable company of such use and that we are selling these units to take advantage of the special features no more rental fees or payment for damaged rented equipment. I never advertise that it is legal or ok to use without paying for the cable service. Am i covered with the hold harmless? I was unable to find any laws in Fl pertaining to this. You help would greatfully be appriciated.
2 Answers from Attorneys
Re: cable tv descrambler box
I think the prior advice from Mr. Graves is incorrect, as it does not indicate an awareness of the 1992 and 1996 federal laws which legalize the purchase and ownership of third party descramblers and which would preempt any Florida law to the contrary. See the following webpage for more accurate information http://www.cable-descrambler-site.com/cable-descrambler-faq.htm .
The Federal law was presumably made to break the monopoly of cable systems on descramblers so that cable companies could not gouge consumers on the price of descramblers.
Here is a link to a disclaimer in current use by a seller of descramblers.http://www.cable-descrambler-site.com/disclaimer.htm .
Re: cable tv descrambler box
I'm not at all sure that you are starting from the correct premise (i.e., that federal law permits the sale of these devices) -- without researching the point, I rather suspect that there is simply no prohibition on interstate sales. Yes, this makes a difference, because if federal law actually gave vendors permission to sell, then the federal law would preempt contrary state laws. Doubting that this is the case, you need to look to applicable Florida law.
The problem with these devices is that they have only one function, which is illegal. Thus, I suspect that you run a significant risk of being charged as an accessory to cable theft or copyright violation. I have two related examples in mind: (1) VCRs, and (2) drug paraphernalia.
(1) When VCRs were developed and brought to market, Hollywood howled protests that the devices were intended solely to make unauthorized copies of their products, and various actions were threatened against the manufacturers on that theory. However, in that context, the manufacturers could reasonably advance some permitted uses for the devices (e.g., taping programs for later viewing, and duplication of one's own VHS camera's tapes).
(2) Recently, I read of a case wherein a "head shop" vendor was successfully prosecuted on drug-related charges. He had strict rules about use of language in the store (e.g., "water pipe" was permitted, but "bong" prohibited). The case turned on his knowledge of his customers' intent to use the devices for illegal purposes.
I fear that your situation is closer to the second example than the first, since even your suggested use probably violates the subscribers' agreement with their cable providers, and the whole hold-harmless agreement may bring you, like the head-shop owner, into the prong wherein you have knowledge to a virtual certainty that the product will be used for an illegal purpose. Accordingly, I would urge you to retain competent Florida counsel. I can refer you to someone if you want.