Is It Illegal To Help Someone Watch TV Over Their Computer?

from the questions,-questions dept

This one is actually from a few weeks ago, but we were just informed of it by Ed. Apparently, there’s a company that’s trying to help people watch satellite TV over their computer and has come up with an interesting plan. They’ll use Slingboxes and DirecTV accounts to help people watch DirecTV via any internet connection. From the article, it sounds like neither DirecTV or Slingbox is happy about this, and there’s talk about terms of service violations and such. However, it’s not entirely clear why this is a problem. Everyone who should be getting paid still is getting paid. Each customer has to buy their own DirecTV account — it’s just that it’s installed at this company’s offices, rather than at their own home. Since you need to have a separate Slingbox for each account, the company is still buying the Slingboxes. So, both DirecTV and Sling Media get their cut. The company then charges a $99/month service fee, which is pretty steep considering that the person also has to pay for a DirecTV account on top of that. Really this is only useful for people who have internet connections, want the programming that’s available on DirecTV, but for some reason cannot get DirecTV — which might not be a huge market. However, it’s hard to see why that should be considered a problem for any of the companies involved. This service is simply reselling their offerings, bringing it to markets that otherwise wouldn’t get served.

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Comments on “Is It Illegal To Help Someone Watch TV Over Their Computer?”

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Paul says:

Well, couldn’t there be an issue with people sharing accounts somehow? I could just split the cost with my neighbor and then set up some schedule where I watch it during a certain amount of time and then he can watch it at some other time. Unless the slingbox gets installed at the user’s place. Then it shouldn’t be a problem. I’m just not entirely sure how a slingbox operates, though.

Nasty Old Geezer says:


One person’s innovation is someone else’s TOS violation. I would think that the cable companies should be howling about this, not DirecTV. If I buy DirecTV service, why do they care where I put the dish? Especially if there is a technical or zoning issue that stops me from getting DirecTV at my physical residence?

Comcast, et al, should be concerned. DIrecTV should be overjoyed.

Steve says:

I've got the answer

It’s because of the local markets.

Networks like NBC don’t want someone in Chicago watching a NBC station from NY.

They require Satellite providers to ensure that people can only watch local stations from their own markets.

This of course has to do with ad revenue, and viewerships of local stations.

Mike4 says:

Re: I've got the answer

You’re absolutely correct, Steve. You are technically only allowed to watch your local programming.

This doesn’t explain, however, why DirectTV and Slingbox would be upset. Are they afraid their technology is going to come under fire because people are using it to break the laws?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I've got the answer

I’m not sure that’s much of a problem– the DBS antenna itself receives the entire spectrum of channels, but the receiver is set up to permit only the local channels. So it would be simple enough for a customer in New York to have a receiver in Ohio set up for New York, and a customer in Chicago to have a receiver at the same facility in Ohio set up for Chicago. Satellite transmissions are not as geographically limited like terrestrial broadcasts– the satellite footprint is nation or continent sized, not metropolitan area sized. It really doesn’t matter where the receiver is located.

Codyboy says:

Re: Re: Re: I've got the answer

Anonymous Coward is right on the money, except that it is the access card that allows you to view the various channels your satellite dish receives, as opposed to the receiver.
I used to work for a company that sold DirectTV signals in rural america– DirectTV only wants to deal with metropolitan based customers. The thing is, Direct has signed contracts with all kinds of different companies on where they can operate and sell services, and where Direct will be the provider. You can’t get service from two different companies for a DirectTV feed. So the physical address plays a huge role in that. The local tv stations are also a huge deal, due to the broadcaster’s pull with the FCC. The rules that once governed who could get local channels were absurd.

Silverback says:

Well, Duh!

It’s very easy to see why BOTH companies would have an issue with this service. It’s because they didn’t think of it first and now someone else is making money on their service. They will beat and badger this firm until either they relent or share some of THEIR profits. Go big business! Sack the innovators.

Sanguine Dream says:

Could it be?

It seems to me that Directv and Slingbox are just mad that a middleman has inserted himself into the equation. They feel that this company is making money off of their products “without offering anything new”. Personally I think that they should see this as an opportunity to reach markets where people can’t have Directv (which would increase membership) and sell more Slingboxes. So let’s just see how it will be before they sue this company.

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Re: Could it be?

It no longer amazes me or shocks me when companies, who purport to meet the needs of customers, do the exact opposite and make life more difficult for the customer. In addition to Directv and Slingbox, there are other corporate interests who would be opposed: local tv stations (they don’t want to lose that all important ad revenue), hotels (they don’t want to lose all that in-room movie revenue), the networks (who will argue that people will save the shows and then redistribute them), and so on.

Unfortunately, the government, instead of encouraging innovation and competition, is hell bent on making life difficult for the consumer, while protecting business models that are no longer valid in the internet age.

Doc says:

It’s really not about the consumer when it comes to media. It’s about money and how to grub as much as possible, the little guy be d*mned.

Like in our market, wear Medicom cable and local Fox and CBS providers pull their channels over fights over reimbursements… who gets hurt in this tug-of-war? The little guy sitting at home in his apartment who can’t watch what they want.

Fox still won’t let their HD signal be propogated over the local Medicom cable… I’m sure they are holding out for more dough from Mediacom.

Same old story…greed. It’s as old as the hills!

a says:

I would imagine that Slingbox wants to stay under the radar screen on topics like these. It is not difficult or costly to be able to multi-cast programming with Slingbox. I have seen it done (as a demonstration) quickly.

Now what happens when people go out and buy PPV and send it out over the web for free to anyone with a internet connection?

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Now what happens when people go out and buy PPV and send it out over the web for free to anyone with a internet connection?

Well, the company that owns the rights to the PPV broadcast could sue the person who is transmitting the information over the internet. All ab2TV is doing is letting people watch the content they have paid for on their computer – or in other words, letting people decide how and when they can use their legally paid for content.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

letting people decide how and when they can use their legally paid for content.

see, that’s illegal. you can’t do what you want with the stuff you own. someone has to keep control over the stuff you own.

this is why you shouldn’t legally own content… it’s illegal to do stuff with it.

it’s better to obtain the content illegally, that way you are free to do what you want with it, and you only have to pay if you get caught.

clearly that is the intent of the media companies since that is what they are forcing us to do.

Professor HighBrow (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Content" as a Tangible Good

see, that’s illegal. you can’t do what you want with the stuff you own. someone has to keep control over the stuff you own.

This is an excellent argument against over-enforced DRM law.

It seems that this issue always condenses down to the idiea of “intellectual property.”
Our court system is clogged with corporate lawsuits concerning BS like this, at the expense of the Taxpayer and the consumer!

Why does a darn CD or DVD cost so much? Here’s my estimated breakdown, although if anyone can come up with the real figures, please post them.
Item: One CD Album
(1%) Artist, (9%) Production, (10%) Actual PLASTIC, (30%) Bureaucratic Record company BS, ( 50%) Greedy CEO

Clearly, the “Robin Hood” theory is well justified.

–Professor HighBrow and the Apes

Shaniac says:

This is great for those abroad

So there is an unoffical service being offered in my city, for folks that are sent abroad. The customer pays for cable connection, cable box with dvr, and a sling box. Then they can watch local programming timeshifted to the new location they are in. I have a few friends that are doing this and love to get news, sports, and tv from their “hometown” while not there. It is a very creative service but I am sure someone will sue someone else over some hair-splitting legal mumbo-jumbo.

Matt says:

This is alot like the problems that the RIAA had with the original service… The one that allowed you to listen to your own records and CD’s over the internet.
The issue is control. This new company is in a contractual relationship with the consumer, not the provider, and they fear the loss of control over the content.
They fear that very soon the access controls that are in place will be broken, and all of their content will be free for the taking on the internet. And they’re probably right.
I’m normally the last person to side with the big media companys, but this is a case where they would likely win. Actually, I’m surprised that Slingbox is still alive, considering the potential for the same things to happen.

Shel says:

Program Content License

I can get a subscription to one of the satellite radio services for listening to their programing via my PC. The difference between DirectTV and the satellite radio services is programing.

The radio services create and originate their own programing content. DishTV is only a distribution service. It doesn’t create and orginate programing. I don’t know how they compensate HBO, Showtime, etc., but there is probably something in the agreement that restricts the distribution of the programing to the satellite downlink.

The company helping DishTV subscribers to view the programing is actually re-distributing from a remote site. The tgerms of the agreement with Dish probably allow a customer to distribute the programing throughout their residence, but not to another location, such as a next door neighbor.

It is true that Dish and Slingbox are not losing any money, but the comapnies that create the programing may take issue with the re-distribution and sue DishTV.

Raptor85 (profile) says:

this would have been great

i would have easily replaced my $80 /month cable with about 4 good channels at my old apartment with this. DSL was great there, but i could only get cable because DirectTV you have to be able to point the dish in the correct direction, and in an apartment complex at least 50% are going to be facing the wrong way. I was facing the wrong way.Cant mount it on the roof or something either, We were allowed to have a dish, but it couldnt be attached to the building itself. (some people had them mounted on tables on their balcony areas, some on tripod looking things) This is a great idea for Time Warner (ex Adelphia) bound area’s like this… What i ended up doing was just canceling my tv service after the first 3 months, and didnt have anything at all for the next 21 months. (and really, after the initial month, i didnt miss tv at all)

Even now i don’t watch tv too often, even though my roommate’s in my house have directtv, so thanks to restrictions on use and crap like this they’ve showed me i dont need them at all 🙂

Slingshooter says:

Sling doomed?

Someone has to be using Slingbox arrangements under the radar to watch football that’s blacked-out locally. Slingbox will probably be sued out of business ala ReplayTV if they become successful enough. Of course the technology is simple enough that any mid-powered PC with a tv capture card could do the same thing and an open-source option is simply a matter of time (if not already available, haven’t looked).

Slingbox User says:

Why? Not sure, but...

Television programs are not supposed to be rebroadcast or retransmitted without the consent of the content owners and distributors. So the whole issue with having a company who acts as a middle man between using Directv and Slingbox is really pushing the red tape on the issue of legality.

If someone is providing it privately for you or you are doing it for your self, there’s nothing they really can do about it unless they specifically tell you to stop. I personally don’t think they’ll start to care about stuff like this until they start losing subscriptions to it or if someone in the middle is making tons of money from doing it.

I personally know people who are sharing Directv accounts. This in itself is illegal, as stated by the Directv Terms of Service. Access cards on the same account are limited to one household only. Now, you could argue that the boxes are physically limited to the “one household”, but the fact that someone outside the household is also able to view the content from the boxes is illegal.

So what do you do if you’re the middle man? Keep your business quiet? Or do you try to cut a deal with Directv and give them a cut of the profit? (Granted the later will take more time and effort in dealing with region issues and who can subscribe to the services.)

I personally feel that if I am an American Citizen, and I can show proof that I am, then I should be able to subscribe to these services, no matter where I am in the world. But that’s just me.

TJ says:

I need my football !!!!!

I did not know that there was a company who offered this. Also, this is not a genius plan-it’s the first thing you think of when you are denied reception and that’s why I was confused as to why DirecTV and other satellite providers did not offer this type off service for the small market of unfortunate consumers who can not get reception because of location. I need to watch my football – E_A_G_L_E_S ! baby!-and live 8,000 miles away from my home in an apartment complex and am facing north /north east. Ass backwards. This is the second place I lived where I could not get the DirecTV service and it is very frustrating. From loving DirecTV a few years ago when facing the perfect direction I now find my self extremely irritated and now actually hate this company. They’re teasing me man! I need to watch my team in the comfort of my home with my dog on my leather couch and HD widescreen TV that I was so very excited to watch football on. I am also extremely upset with the NFL and their contract with DTV. Offer the freakin games to other providers! Considering the price of the football package and how expensive it is I will still save money. We would drop eighty bucks easy.. each week between two people on beer and food at local sports bars. Then we can not even hear the game because the home team (JAX Faguars) are hogging up the sound on the tube. Also, getting into fights with loud mouth red neck locals and asshole Pittsburg fans all before driving home drunk. This used to be fun but I guess I am getting too old. I am considering researching this company and maybe purchasing their service. Unforunately they are charging a hundred bucks on top of the DTV package. Don’t know if I want to swing that or not. DirecTV should pick this company up and pay them $30 per person they install there service to and the customer would pay $30 to them. A total of $60 for them. It’s not the $99 they are charging now but they would have a hell of a lot more business from the marketing of DTV and the lower prices to the customer. Also, DTV could make everybody happy if not make an easy minimal profit.(at the very least).Every thing counts in todays jacked up economy that the Bush administration/republicans kindly gave to us Americans. I can not complain too much for I did not vote. I will not make that mistake again and you should not either.

BeverlyHillsCop says:

Newsweek Story on Slingbox Sharing and Hosting

Below is a great story in Newsweek on Slingbox Sharing and Hosting


The Slingbox was built to stream your favorite TV shows to your laptop via the Internet. But users are finding other new and controversial uses.

Remember when you had to be home at 8 p.m. to watch a favorite TV show? Devices like TiVo and your cable company’s digital video recorder changed all that. Then along came the Slingbox, a device that lets you watch your home DVR or cable box from anywhere in the world using your laptop and an Internet connection. More than 500,000 Slingboxes have been sold since they were introduced in 2005. But like many disruptive technologies, the device is being used in creative ways that its manufacturer, Sling Media, never imagined.

Originally designed for personal viewing, the Slingbox has been transformed into a global online broadcast platform by individual users and a handful of crafty companies. With a practice known as Slingbox hosting, owners of the boxes are charging others in different cities and countries access to their Slingbox video feeds. For a monthly charge of about $100, subscribers get the original owner’s Slingbox ID, download the free Sling software, and voilà—a New Yorker could be watching the local news in Los Angeles or London. Sharing is especially popular among sports fans who use sites like that provide a forum for owners to trade their IDs with users in other states. That allows a Knicks fan in Iowa, for example, to watch live Knicks games that may not be broadcast outside of New York.

Then there are companies like and that both allow homesick Americans living overseas to watch U.S. television over the Internet. For as low as $99, plus the cost of a cable or satellite TV subscription, they’ll wire up a Slingbox so that international customers can watch American must-see-TV from anywhere in the world.

“Slingbox gives people the ability to essentially become a rebroadcaster of content, and sort of become their own cable company,” says Michael Gartenberg, a tech analyst at Jupitermedia. “We are living in a global society and people want to watch the Yankees, even if they’re not living in the New York area or the United States.”

While they’re popular with users, the Slingbox’s manufacturer, Sling Media, is not pleased. The company says these practices violate its license agreement, which states that users may not lease, lend, rent or otherwise distribute the software to any third party. The company has banned all Slingbox sharing and hosting posts on its official message boards, warning customers that the use is illegal. “Hosting Slingboxes and sharing finder ID’s is prohibited by our End User License Agreement,” says Sling Media spokesman Brian Jaquet. “And we don’t condone any violation of copyright law.” But will it take legal action to stop unauthorized uses? “No comment,” Jaquet says.

Not surprisingly, cable and satellite TV providers are also up in arms, underscoring that unauthorized rebroadcasts of their content are illegal. “Our acceptable-use policy, which every customer agrees to, is pretty clear about what you can and can’t do with your cable subscription,” says Time Warner Cable spokesman Alex Dudley. “And the majority of [these uses] fall outside of the acceptable-use policy.”

The major professional sports leagues aren’t big fans either, largely because it enables viewers to skirt the leagues’ multi-million-dollar exclusive broadcast partnerships that restrict regional broadcasts and provide local blackouts for programming when games aren’t sold out. So far, however, none of the leagues seem willing to prosecute unauthorized broadcasts or alienate some of their most avid fans. “Our fans are never wrong,” says CEO Bob Bowman. “We can never suggest that a fan shouldn’t do everything he or she is doing to watch a baseball game… the best way to combat these gray activities is to have a better product: higher quality, more streams, high definition, things that [Slingbox] can’t do.” The NFL declined NEWSWEEK’s requests for comment.

For their part, Slingbox owners see nothing wrong with using their devices to their fullest advantage. They believe that once they purchase the device, they should be able to use it in the privacy of their homes in any way they see fit. Online sharing and hosting, say owners, just underscores the desire to watch news, entertainment and sports from anywhere at any time. “If there were legal and simple ways for people in remote locations to watch whatever content they wanted, those people would pay for it,” Gartenberg says. “The fact that there is demand for these types of services indicates that there is a market opportunity for legitimate [offerings].”

Some content providers have already realized this. Last year, EchoStar, which owns Dish Network, bought Slingbox to give it a competitive edge over rival cable and satellite TV providers. The NHL has also partnered with Slingbox to distribute league content through its Clip+Sling service, which allows the creation of short e-mailable video clips.

One thing, though, is clear: Slingbox, which also enables TV viewing on cell phones and other handheld devices, is leading the charge in the merging of TV and the Internet. And according to Gartenberg, the genie may already be out of the bottle. “They can’t turn off the technology,” he says. “People are carrying screens with them all the time in the guise of phones and laptops, so they’re going to want their content to flow from location to location. What you have to figure out is what’s the fair way for people to use this technology, get the content that they want and pay a fair price for it.”
© 2008

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