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UPDATE: Feds to get tougher on satellite signal thieves

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OTTAWA - This morning, the Ministers of Industry and Canadian Heritage issued a press release the Canadian cable, satellite and broadcast industries had been hoping was coming.

"Allan Rock, Minister of Industry, and Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage, today announced the Government of Canada's intention to propose amendments to the Radiocommunication Act with a view to better combat piracy of direct-to-home satellite television services," reads the release.

"Amendments will be proposed to: better control the import of illegal radiocommunication equipment into Canada; increase penalties as a more effective deterrent to satellite piracy; and strengthen the existing right of the Canadian broadcasting industry to take civil action against those who sell illegal equipment and services."

The TV industry has been lobbying the government to toughen up the Act for some time and have recommended fines for those involved in satellite signal theft in the range of $25,000 for individuals to $500,000 for companies. However, until the proposed legislation is tabled when the House of Commons resumes sitting later this month, no one knows the exact wording or potential fines.

Canadian Cable Television Association president Janet Yale told www.cablecastermagazine.com today that she is pleased the government will take action. "We don't know if we're getting everything we asked for," she said, but "if (black marketers) face a penalty that is really serious, it's not just a cost of doing business anymore, it's a real deterrent."

As well, strengthening the industry's ability to take civil action will also have a dramatic impact on the illegal satellite industry as complainants in civil actions have only to prove an offense has taken place and not quantify damages, as those will likely be specified by statute with this new legislation, giving judges easy-to-follow fine guidelines when handing out sentences.

It's too soon to tell how long it may take for this to wind its way through the government into law, but those in Ottawa are hoping it can happen in six months or so.

"We call on the Government to rapidly pass the amendments before the end of this Parliamentary session and to continue to aggressively enforce the Act," said Canadian Association of Broadcasters president and CEO Glenn O'Farrell. "We thank Ministers Rock and Copps and Justice Minister Cauchon and Revenue Minister Caplan for their support and urge them to continue to demonstrate their leadership to ensure that this issue remains at the forefront of the Government's legislative, regulatory and law enforcement agendas. We also urge Minister Rock to work closely with his U.S. counterpart to ensure greater cooperation on international enforcement on both sides of the border."

"Satellite piracy is an illegal activity that strikes directly at the integrity and competitiveness of the Canadian broadcasting system and the industry's ability to offer new, innovative services to Canadians," said Rock. "The Radiocommunication Act must be strengthened to better deter pirate dealers who view current penalties as merely an acceptable cost of doing business. We are drafting these changes in order to protect the jobs supported and investments made by the broadcasting industry, which have evolved to provide more competition and choice for consumers.

"With this action, the government is simply moving to prevent the erosion of our broadcasting system," said Minister Copps. "The illegal activities of satellite pirates take millions of dollars out of the broadcast industry each year, and that means less funding for Canadian producers, writers, artists, camerapersons, technicians and other tradespeople who work on sets. Satellite piracy is not a victimless crime. Jobs are at stake."

This action follows the April 2002 Supreme Court Decision in Bell ExpressVu versus Richard Rex, which confirmed that Section 9(1)(c) of the Radiocommunication Act protects both Canadian and foreign signals from unauthorized decoding. The government committed to work in co-operation with the Canadian broadcasting industry and law enforcement authorities to stop the sale and distribution of devices designed for the unauthorized decoding of satellite television programming.

In addition to strengthening the Radiocommunication Act, the government is providing information to protect consumers and public safety networks from satellite piracy's largely unseen dangers. As reported by www.cablecastermagazine.com, the use of pirated receiver cards has been found to create signal interference with licensed radiocommunication systems, including those of police and search-and-rescue services.

As well, Canadians who purchase pirated equipment should be aware that they face a substantial financial loss as their service may be terminated without notice or recourse. Consumer protection laws do not apply to purchases of illegal goods.
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