NEW YORK (CNNfn) - DirecTV is preparing to sue and seek damages from as many as 1 million people who illegally receive its satellite-broadcast programming, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed Tuesday.|
The move represents a major shift from the company's prior policy, which focused almost exclusively on multimillion-dollar civil claims against a few alleged middlemen suspected of helping steal its signals, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"We've gone after the developers and major distributors, and believe it's also important to identify and target users" of illegal equipment, said Larry Risler, the DirecTV vice president in charge of the initiative.
The Journal said the company, a unit of Hughes Electronics (GMH: up $0.13 to $19.43, Research, Estimates), has been cooperating with the government to launch criminal cases against a few groups accused of peddling unauthorized access cards and other equipment capable of tapping DirecTV's wide array of programs free of charge. However, the effort has shown only spotty success.
DirecTV, based in El Segundo, Calif., now is targeting what it estimates may be as many as 1 million homes across the country illegally receiving the satellite broadcast service. DirecTV has about 10 million subscribers.
Click here for a look at more satellite stocks
The company also has launched what it calls "an end-user campaign," including mailing strongly worded letters to thousands of individuals and families suspected of pirating DirecTV signals, the report said.
As many as 100,000 names and addresses were collected from searches of alleged bootleg equipment operations, and some of the illicit devices still can be obtained on the Internet, the newspaper said.
Hughes -- widely reported to be an acquisition target of News Corp. – is a division of General Motors (GM: up $1.16 to $64.06, Research, Estimates).