What is Cable Television Piracy?

Legal Definition
Cable television piracy, a form of copyright infringement, is the act of obtaining unauthorized access to cable television services. In older analog cable systems, most cable channels were not encrypted and cable theft was often as easy as plugging a coaxial cable attached to the user's television into an apartment house cable distribution box (which often had no securing by a cable company employee such as a lock to prevent unauthorized access). In some rural areas nonsubscribers would even run long cables to distribution boxes on nearby utility poles. Set-top boxes were required with some systems, but these were generic, and often in an unknowing violation of contract, former customers would donate them to thrift stores for sale or retain them indefinitely in storage when they ended their subscription to the service rather than return them to the provider.

To prevent this, cable providers built stronger protection against theft into new digital cable systems which were deployed beginning in the mid-1990s as part of the changeover to the new digital HDTV standard, along with assessing a large fine for the entire cost of a set-top box if the customer didn't return it upon the termination of services. This has greatly reduced cable theft, although pirate decryption continued on some DVB-C systems which are based on the same compromised encryption schemes formerly used in satellite television broadcasting. Most cable companies have also issued new secured outside distribution boxes which require certain keys only given out to their installers to access, making theft via outside split line more difficult.

As of 2014, many cable providers have switched to digital-only systems which require mandatory use of either their approved set top boxes or an approved CableCARD device. In many cases, no analog channels are available, and if they are, are usually just the provider's paid programming, Emergency Alert System and barker channels, or merely a one-channel signal which lets a customer or installer know the signal is viewable on a television set.
-- Wikipedia