Feds Join Fray in Cable-Theft Battle


Cable-industry officials are cheering a law-enforcement
initiative aimed at combating piracy and the counterfeiting of intellectual property in
both the U.S. and abroad.

The effort, which teams federal agencies such as the
Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Customs service,
will initially target piracy hotbeds adjacent to major ports. These are the Boston area,
metropolitan New York City and New Jersey, South Florida and the high-tech corridor of

Cable officials are already working mainly with the FBI to
educate field officers on the breath of cable piracy. The industry has also received
strong cooperation from the bureau's economic crimes section, said Dan Backo,
director of the National Cable Television Association's Office of Cable Signal Theft.

At the recent National Show in Chicago, the industry hosted
more than 75 law enforcement officers for a two-day seminar on signal piracy and Internet
fraud. "It's a good thing," Backo said of the task force, adding that he
hopes the FBI will help the industry to stem the proliferation of black-box ads in
publications and construction plans for descramblers on the Internet. Backo and other
industry representatives also provided a training course last week on Internet-based

Cable's anti-piracy investigations should fit tidily
within the areas targeted by federal law-enforcement agencies. Investigators are
especially interested in those forms of piracy that also represent threats to public
health and safety, as well as offenses in which organized crime syndicates are believed to
be involved.

The industry's last big multijurisdictional raid was
Operation CableTrap, executed by the FBI based on tips from hardware vendors. That action
uncovered a broad criminal conspiracy, which even included offshore money laundering.
Other piracy raids have revealed signs that the suspects also traffic in weapons or drugs.

The task force will also seek the support of the U.S. Trade
Representative, the Department of Commerce's Patent & Trademark Office and the
U.S. Copyright Office. It will increase the number of specialized training courses for
investigators and prosecutors at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, S.C. and the
FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., among other locations.

The FBI has elevated intellectual property crime and piracy
to one of its top white-collar crime priorities.

"Intellectual property criminals are organized, well
funded and use the tools of the Internet and modern telecommunications to steal the
product of our labors," said Thomas Pickard, assistant director of the FBI's
Criminal Investigative Division, in a prepared statement.

Officials acknowledge that pirates and counterfeiters have
had a great impact on the U.S. economy. Though the U.S. Customs service had a
record-breaking year in 1998, seizing $76 million in illegal goods of all kinds,
law-enforcement officials said that made barely a dent in the overall stream of goods into
the country.

A study released last month, and cited by task force
agencies, estimated that piracy in the software arena cost the U.S. 109,000 jobs and $99
million in tax revenue. Those losses are in addition to the billions that the sale and use
of illegal set-top descramblers costs the cable industry each year.