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04/26/2013

News / Satellite TV provider sues Maine pub owner for broadcasting without commercial license

Satellite television provider DirecTV is suing a pub owner in the town of Boothbay Harbor in Maine for “willfully” broadcasting its programming to the public without a commercial license. The pub owner maintains that the company knew what he was doing and did not warn him.

Korey Lewis, owner of Pier One Pub, also known as Pier One Pizza, said he became a client of DirecTV ten years ago. Company technicians installed equipment on several TVs in his pub and repeatedly came back for repair works.

“Never did I try to hide anything from them,” Lewis was quoted by Bangor Daily News as saying. “Honestly, if I’d known, I would have switched over.”

Last year, a representative of the company came to his pub and took photographs, Lewis said. This was followed by a letter from the company stating that he was in violation of the Federal Communications Act for having DirecTV in his pub without a commercial license.

“I said, ‘You never told me. Your guys came out and hooked me up!” Lewis recounted. “Then their lawyer called me and told me, ‘You can resolve this by paying us $15,000 or we’re going to court,’”

The lawyer reportedly told Lewis that the company had been sending him letters every year asking him whether he is a residential or commercial subscriber. Lewis said he paid his bills and did not pay attention to any “propaganda” material the company was also sending him.

He later called DirecTV to try to switch to a commercial account, but was redirected to the same lawyer. After Lewis hired his own lawyer, DirecTV told him they could settle the case for $9,000.

“We’re a small business,” Lewis noted. “We barely make it as it is.”

While Lewis maintains that he did not know that he was violating the law by failing to register as a commercial client, DirecTV avers that Lewis knew that a residential account would cost him less and deliberately set up his account at a residential address at least a mile away from the pub.

“We were not aware of the service at the pub because Mr. Lewis used his residential account to set up service in his bar, so as far as we knew this was a residential account, not commercial,” DirecTV spokesperson Robert Mercer stated in an e-mail. “Mr. Lewis knew what he was doing — attempting to avoid paying the higher fees required for the display of programming in a bar or restaurant.”

Mercer noted that Lewis’ agreement to switch his subscription plan “does not let him off the hook for misusing our programming and not paying commercial subscription fees.” He stressed that bar owners need to understand that there are consequences for failing to pay the fees necessary to use satellite TV at a commercial location.

The company filed its lawsuit against Korey Lewis with the US District Court in Portland. The court documents are unclear exactly how much DirecTV seeks in damages.


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