A black box is a device that lets people watch cable television without paying for it. When a viewer connects it to the cable system, the box illegally converts and descrambles TV signals. State and federal laws strictly prohibit these devices because they allow people to engage in a form of theft. To discourage criminal activity, U.S. courts harshly penalize black box owners.
Stealing a Service
The main reason why these devices are illegal is that they prevent cable TV companies from collecting service fees. You cannot legally avoid the monthly TV bill by paying for a black box. Cable theft has the same effect as shoplifting; it results in slower service and substantially higher costs for honest customers.
Major Revenue Losses
The cable industry needs subscription fees to employ technicians, maintain the distribution system and pay for TV programming. A single black box may not have a huge impact, but the losses add up to a significant amount of money. Cable providers lose more than $6 billion each year to signal theft, according to the state of Massachusetts.
Safety and Quality
Viewers with black boxes often receive inferior TV services. Authorized cable boxes usually deliver better audio and video than illicit descramblers. Furthermore, a black box may have major defects that compromise safety or reliability. Illegal device manufacturers do not recall their products when customers report safety issues.
If you use a black box, you may face large fines and/or jail time. The U.S. government can imprison an offender for up to 180 days and levy a maximum fine of $1,000. A judge may impose harsher penalties if you repeatedly break the law or use illegal descramblers to make money. You might also have to pay the cable TV provider for stolen services.
A Victimless Crime?
Contrary to popular belief, cable theft is not a victimless crime. Lots of people, every day, steal cable, movies and music and justify their actions with platitudes like “it’s a victimless crime.” Often, people will talk about how the one movie they stole or the one album they downloaded is a mere drop in the bucket compared the revenues earned by the creators and distributors.
The fact of the matter, however, is that when one person steals and gets away with it, other people start to think they can do the same thing. The entertainment economy suffers over time from rampant piracy which can, ultimately, lead to a gradual decline both in the production and distribution of quality content. While it’s true that most of the revenues earned come from the buyouts from the distributors, the fact remains that you’re stealing from someone.
At the end of the day, if distributors feel like the latest album or mega movie release won’t make their money back, they might not opt into the latest superhero flick or video game release. That, in turn, will hurt the revenue stream of the producers making this content and will only hurt the consumers on a broader scale, in the long run.