Lawsuits Over Cable and Satellite TV Fees Have Dropped 42% This Year

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during August 2016 the government reported 65 new civil filings involving disputes over cable and satellite TV payments. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, there have only been 613 filings during the first 11 months of FY 2016, which if the same pace continues will top out at around 669 filings for the entire year.

Table 1. Cable/Satellite TV Civil Filings
Number Latest Month (August 2016) 65
Number for first 11 months FY 2016 613
Projected for entire FY 2016 669
Number 1 year ago 1,158
Number 5 years ago 1,526
Percent Change from 1 year ago -42.2%
Percent Change from 5 years ago -56.2%

During FY 2015 in comparison to FY 2016 there were 1,158 such suits filed, while five years ago when these types of lawsuits peaked there were 1,526 of them. Thus, the pace of filings during FY 2016 is down by 42.2 percent as compared with last year, and has dropped by 56.2 percent over the past five years. See Table 1.

Lawsuits involving cable and satellite TV payments often involve restaurant and bar owners sued for allegedly committing television signal piracy. Often these involve showing pay-per-view television programs such as sporting events in a commercial establishment without paying the commercial rate to show these programs. Companies initiating large numbers of these suits include J&J Sports Productions, Inc.; Joe Hand Promotions, Inc.; G&G Close Circuit Events, LLC; and DISH Network, LLC. Applicable laws make the restaurant and bar owners strictly liable, meaning that even if they did not intend to steal a TV signal the business typically is liable for damages if the TV program is shown without payment of the proper commercial rate.

The changing trends in these cable/satellite TV civil filings since FY 2008 are shown more clearly in Figure 1. Starting in FY 2010 filings of these types of lawsuits began climbing. The volume of litigation remained particularly high during FY 2011 - FY 2013. However, by FY 2016 the number of lawsuits had nearly fallen to the annual level of such suits filed during the earlier FY 2008 -- 2009 period.

Figure 1. Cable/Satellite TV Civil Filings, Fiscal Years 2008 - 2016

Most Active Judicial Districts

Litigation of this type is not evenly spread across the country. Thus far during FY 2016, the Southern District of Texas (Houston) leads the country with 101 out of the total of 613 suits filed nationally. This means that about one out of every six suits in the country were filed in Texas South during the first eleven months of FY 2016.

Nationally there have been 1.9 suits filed per million population. Relative to its population size, Texas South also ranked first with the highest rate of filings - 5.6 times this national average.

Relative to its population, the Northern District of Oklahoma (Tulsa) was second with a rate 5.0 times the national average.

Two other districts in Texas - the Western District of Texas (San Antonio) with a rate 3.1 times the national average and the Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth) with a rate 2.4 times the national average - also ranked in the top five districts in third and fifth place, respectively. [The remaining Texas judicial district, the Eastern District of Texas (Tyler) in contrast ranked far down the list with less than half of the national rate of filings of this type.] Rounding out the top five was the judicial district of Kansas in fourth place with filings that were 2.5 times the national average.

The remaining judicial districts in the top ten for this fiscal year are shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Top 10 Districts (first 11 months FY 2016)
  Per Million Population
Judicial District Number Rate Rank
Texas, S 101 10.7 1
Okla, N 10 9.5 2
Texas, W 41 5.9 3
Kansas 14 4.8 4
Texas, N 33 4.6 5
Ga, N 25 3.8 6
Wisc, E 12 3.5 7
Mo, E 10 3.4 8
Ill, N 31 3.3 9
Maryland 20 3.3 10

Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.