Signal Piracy Assignments

Overview: Signal piracy shops is a fancy way of saying showing a program without paying for the right to show it. Generally you’re going to be shopping a bar. The bar can be any type of establishment, from a relatively classy place to a dive.

Project variations: There’s pretty much no variation from assignment to assignment. You enter, record your observations, get X number of license plates from vehicles in the parking lot, write an affidavit, get it notarized and submit the package and any pictures by mail.

Visit and reporting requirements: The basic assignment is to enter, count the number of TVs and their approximate size, observe that the pay per view program is being played [and on how many TV’s], get several headcounts of the number of guests in the establishment, visit the restroom [and if you’re shooting video, leave it running, as you’re recording the appearance to assist in placing you at the location], and get notes of the event so you can include them in your affidavit.

Once you get good at these, it can be possible to do several a night, if there are enough locations close to you.

Strategies: I “robe and wire” [get into my video shirt and have the camera hooked up and running] a block or two from the location. At this time I also start my digital voice recorder—yes I’m making two recordings. I generally try to arrive about 20 minutes or so before the event starts. I will back into a parking space as close to the road as possible [learned that from a local police department training class—it allows for faster get aways]. I walk through the bar when I first enter and get a count of the TVs and patrons. I then find a seat and get a drink ordered. About 5 minutes before the start of the main event, I’ll go to the bathroom, again counting the number of patrons. In the bathroom I lock the door, double check my video angle, and repeat a summary into the DVR. On these shops I wear a long sleeved shirt. The external mic for the DVR is clipped to the left cuff of my shirt, so I raise my glass to take a drink, and I whisper into the mic. I get back to my seat and try to get a recording of the TV playing the FBI warning with the penalties for unauthorized showing. I’ll stay through the end of the first round.

It’s important to note that, even if you’re video recording the event, your affidavit has to carry the weight and the video is to support the affidavit.

Special note: I’ll relate two events from different shops. One shop was about 3 hours from home. I got a dinner shop in a nearby town. I drove by the bar just a few minutes after sundown on my way to the dinner shop. I parked in a bank parking lot and, using my DSLR and telephoto lens, I was able to get the pictures of the satellite dish, sign advertising the event, and the bar’s name. Those pictures aren’t required, but having them got me bonus pay, and it saved me having to drive back the next day.

The other event occurred while I was on a route of shops in Florida. I had a weekend layover so I called one of the MSC’s, told them where I was, and I was told there was a bar about 8 miles away that needed to be done. I agreed to do it and ran by that afternoon to do the outdoor pictures. It looked ok. I went back that night and calling the place a dive would be kind. It was the only time on one of these shops where I was worried about my safety. I did the shop, went out, reading license numbers into the DVR as I walked to my car, then proceeded to leave. That’s when I noticed I was being followed. I opened the briefcase on the passenger seat, pulled the recorder out of my pant’s pocket, unplugged the camera, then managed to unscrew the button over the camera, and get the camera and button into the case and get the case closed…all with 1 hand while driving at 50-60 mph. I found a county police officer at a convenience store and pulled in beside him and went to talk with him. The car following me had parked across the street. I just told him I was concerned because that car was following me after I left “X”. I have an ID issued by the local police department that allows me to drive in curfew areas. I showed it to the officer and he went to talk with them while I drove back to my hotel. This is the only time I’ve actually had some concern for my safety on a shop.

Lesson learned…while I may order a drink, I’ll never take more than a sip or two. These shops you need to be extremely aware of your surroundings.

Estimated pay: $100 to $325, depending on MSC. If you submit video, exterior pictures, etc., those can result in bonus pay for some MSC’s.

MSCs: Taylor and Associates, SAI

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