A federal judge at U.S. District Court here yesterday ordered a New Jersey firm to pay $110,800 in damages to Subscription Television of McLean, Va., for illegally making and selling "decoders" that can unscramble the "Super TV" television signal.
Super TV, which has served the Washington metropolitan area since 1981, has about 75,000 subscribers who pay $29.95 a month to receive "scrambled," or specially encoded, TV signals that are "translated" for consumption by the TV set through devices Super TV also includes with the service.
The Communications Act of 1934 prohibits any person from assisting in the unauthorized interception of any wireless communication. But A. Bart Kaufmann, doing business as A. B. Kaufmann Associates and New Video Engineering in Livingston, N.J., had been making and selling the devices to customers so they could receive the programming for free, according to the court's finding.
Judge Stanley S. Harris ordered Kaufmann to desist from selling or distributing the equipment and to turn over all customer lists to STV while surrendering remaining decoders to the U.S. Marshal's Office.
Kaufmann had been selling the equipment to customers for $225 beginning in February 1984 when he began placing ads in newspapers. Kaufmann also "began a saturation direct-mail advertising campaign to residents of Washington, D.C., and surrounding metropolitan area," according to the court's decision.
On July 19, 1984, STV filed a complaint for damages and injunctive relief against Kaufmann, and in August 1984, the court entered a temporary restraining order prohibiting Kaufmann from making or selling the equipment. A trial in the case was held Jan. 24, "at which defendant did not appear personally, through counsel, or otherwise," according to the order.
But STV introduced "competent evidence" showing that it had lost $59,944 in sales. The judge awarded STV another $50,000 in punitive damages and $880 for Kaufmann's non-appearance at the trial.