Ops Hail New Anti-Theft Law in Fla.


The anti-piracy law in Florida just got tougher and

Amendments to state statutes will allow law-enforcement
bodies to at least attempt to go after marketers that sell piracy devices on the Internet.

Cable executives realize that given the global nature of
the Internet, it will be difficult to prosecute such vendors. But "if we have it in
the statute, we may find a couple of cases to apply to it," Florida
Telecommunications Association general counsel Charles Dudley said.

The law already subjects print publishers to prosecution
for misdemeanors if they carry ads for unauthorized equipment manufacturers.

The amendments, which went into effect this month,
strengthen possible penalties for suspects caught with several pieces of equipment.

Persons arrested with five or more unauthorized set-tops
who "know or have reason to know" that the design of the boxes renders them
primarily useful as theft devices can now be charged with third-degree felonies.

Those arrested with 50 or more set-tops can be prosecuted
on second-degree felony charges. Possession of boxes by individuals remains a misdemeanor.

Dudley said the bill faced no opposition, in part because
it was drafted with the assistance of the Office of the Statewide Prosecutor and state
sheriff representatives.

Other state associations have faced resistance from
legislators who are loath to create new classes of felonies when prisons are already
overcrowded. But Dudley said Florida cable executives provided figures estimating that the
state's operators lose $500 million to $600 million annually to pirates.

Further, officers who have executed raids on pirates in the
past have always found other violations of the law, such as illegal gun possession and
fencing, when executing warrants.

The only time the association was worried about the
amendments' passage was during one state house hearing.

Rep. Allan Bense (R-Panama Beach) was a cable overbuilder
before being elected to office, Dudley said. But when the bill was discussed, Bense
endorsed it and explained to his peers how difficult he found it to try to put thieves out
of business.

Officials also plugged what has been interpreted as a
loophole in federal law. Judges have interpreted the penalty provision in the
Telecommunications Act of 1996 differently.

For instance, in a case brought against a nationally active
pirate by General Instrument Corp. two years ago, a judge ruled that the defendant was
subject to a fine totaling $50,000.

The equipment company argued unsuccessfully that the
statute intended that pirates be fined $50,000 per occurrence, which meant that the fine
was to be multiplied by the number of boxes documented in the felon's possession.

The Florida law now makes it clear that damages are for
each violation. Fines can be reduced if a court finds that defendants were unaware of
anti-piracy law.