Stealing cable TV is a federal crime. The law prohibits anyone from intercepting or receiving any cable communications unless authorized by a cable operator. If you are receiving cable television and not paying for it, you are most likely stealing cable. It is also illegal to temporarily receive cable TV for commercial purposes. For example, sometimes bars or clubs will offer pay-per-view events for a small cover charge at the door. To maximize profits, the owner may decide to bring his cable box from home and hook it up in the club. Even if the owner pays for his home cable, using his cable box for commercial profit without first consulting the cable operator is considered stealing.

Is it a Crime to Sell Products/Services that Allow Others to Steal Cable?

Yes. The federal statute that prohibits stealing cable also forbids assisting others in stealing cable, which can include making and distributing any equipment intended for unauthorized reception of cable services.

What Are the Possible Penalties for Stealing Cable?

Criminal penalties:

  • Stealing cable TV for personal entertainment can carry a maximum fine of $1,000 or a maximum prison sentence of 6 months, or both
  • Stealing cable TV for commercial advantage or financial gain can carry a fine of up to $50,000 or a maximum of 2 years in prison, or both for a first offense; for any subsequent offenses the penalty can be a fine of up to $100,000 and up to 5 years in prison

Apart from criminal penalties, a cable operator may choose to bring a lawsuit against an individual stealing cable. The possible penalties to the individual are:

  • An injunction to prevent further use of illegal cable
  • Money damages suffered by the cable operator, as well as any profits made by the person stealing cable
  • Statutory damages that range from $250-$10,000
  • Recovery of full costs, including attorneys’ fees
  • If the individual stole cable for financial advantage, the cable operator can sue for damages up to $50,000
  • Even if the person was not aware they were stealing cable, the cable operator could sue for damages of at least $100
  • Penalties imposed by state and local laws may also apply

What Should I Do if I Have Been Accused by a Cable Operator of Stealing Cable?

It depends on what kind of action the cable operator is taking. If threatened with criminal charges, you should immediately consult an entertainment lawyer who can advise you of your rights and help you navigate the criminal legal system. More likely, however, a cable operator will threaten a law suit and give the option of settling for a certain amount. In this situation it would be wise to seek a lawyer who specializes in civil suits to determine your course of action. While a settlement offer may sound like the easiest and quickest way out, it is not necessarily the cheapest option and the cable operator may be demanding more than they are entitled to.