Illinois has embraced what experts call the most forward-looking anti-piracy and anti-hacking bill yet adopted by a state government.
The Illinois Broadband Security Act exceeds trend-setting bills that had been approved in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, because of the breadth of civil and criminal penalties it establishes. Gov. George Ryan signed the bill into law on July 25.
"It protects the integrity of intellectual property, not just now, but in the future," said Showtime Networks Inc. senior vice president Donovan Gordon, a member of the industry's Broadband and Internet Security Task Force.
Operators are protected not just from signal theft, but from hacking and intentional content distortion.
The last two protections are vital — especially if the cable industry is to convince the Hollywood studios to digitally deliver their first-run films to theaters via broadband, or to stream them to pay-per-view users, Gordon noted. The cable network must be secure from unauthorized file sharing, he said.
The Illinois bill, passed unanimously by legislators, prevents unauthorized transmission, decryption and disruption of electronic services via any electronic platform, wired or wireless.
The measure even addresses those who send out blanket electronic-mail solicitations with offers to sell respondents instructions for building decoders out of parts readily available at RadioShack.
Geoff Beauchamp, an attorney and member of the task force, said he believes that provision will allow for prosecution of non-Illinois residents, as those individuals must use infrastructure located within the state to contact consumers.
Penalties under the legislation range from a class-A misdemeanor to a class-3 felony, the latter of which is to be applied to recidivists who possess multiple theft or hacking devices.
Penalties are to be assessed on a per-device basis, which closes a loophole found in most legacy anti-piracy legislation. Courts have often interpreted penalty clauses on a per-event basis, capping the penalty at a level most large-scale pirates apparently felt was an acceptable cost of doing business.
Operators can also sue the criminals in civil court, and the new law lowers the burden of proof for victims. Plaintiffs can either claim actual damages, plus any of the defendant's profits; or receive statutory damages of $250 to $10,000 per device. If the violation is committed "willfully and for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain," the per-box penalty would be $50,000.
The criminal penalty in Illinois will be five years in jail and a $25,000 fine for individuals, plus the per-device assessment. Corporations would be fined $50,000.
Those convicted under the measure will forfeit any pirate hardware seized by authorities.