Wolfgang Wiebach's Light Musings on Heavy Subjects

    To Steal Or Not To Steal: On the unauthorized decoding of scrambled TV.

    There is a website ( pvr.blogs.com) that deals with the issues of TV recording, particularly satellite TV, and the equipment available for this purpose. Now it seems that some people (who apparently call themselves "hackers") have managed to unscramble those inaccessible premium channels on DirecTV; or at least they did for a while until DirecTV changed the code. In any case, there is also a discussion going on about the ethical merits about this endeavor.
    The prevalent opinion appears to be that there is nothing to worry about in the ethical department, because, first of all, DirecTV does not loose anything physical. This doesn't hold water. The admission price requested is not for any physical goods but for a service. The offered transaction is not for delivery of goods, but for delivery of services. Taking them without payment is not theft of goods, but theft of service. It's like sneaking into Disney World and partaking of the fun for free. If everyone would do it, neither Disney World nor DirecTV could operate.



    Secondly, they argue, DirecTV's signal is beamed right into everyone's living room, which is actually an act of trespass, and one might as well do with it as one pleases. This argument might weigh a little heavier before the Supreme Court. However, the signal cannot be displayed by customary, everyday technical means. Its scrambling is like a legal fence that tells the casual observer that the goods behind it are private property and not for the taking. If you are in good shape, you can certainly climb over the fence around Disney World, but this does not make you a morally acceptable visitor.

    Hence, descrambling DirecTV and watching everything for free is immoral.

    However, there is another side to this issue.

    Why are the premium services on DirecTV, and the American entertainment services in general, so unreasonably expensive? If the price of a pay-per-view (PPV) movie was 40 cents instead of 4 dollars, if the cost of HBO was a buck per month instead of $12 - would anybody bother to descramble them unlawfully? Of course not. And why are they so expensive? Because the people who make these movies are ridiculously overpaid, and the collusion between the producers prevents any price competition. Julia Roberts, for example, may be a nice and talented woman, but must she be paid $15,000,000 for a movie? Wouldn't half a million be enough? The same goes even more for every other second-rate actor, third-rate director and fourth-rate writer, not to mention the producer. Hollywood has the monopoly in the business of creating entertainment for the working man, but charges unjustifiable prices the working man cannot afford. This is immoral.     And they can maintain these prices only by price fixing, which is actually illegal. How come that HBO, Showtime et al each cost the same? How come that every PPV movie costs $3.99, regardless which company produced it, which actors participate?

    Hence, the pricing structure of Hollywood products is immoral and illegal.

    Therefore, to an impartial observer, it does not appear unreasonable when people try to climb over the legal fence around these products. It may be unlawful, but it is not unjustified.