EchoStar Communications Corporation

(Nasdaq:DISH), America's second-biggest satellite communications provider, has joined the legal charge against Israeli-U.K. company

NDS

(Nasdaq, Easdaq:NNDS), a TV smart-card maker that stands accused of piracy, the

Wall Street Journal

reports.

Vivendi Universal's Canal Plus Group was first to accuse NDS of breaking the computer code of rival TV smart-card makers, and delivered it to satellite-TV pirates. Subscribers get smart cards with their television set-top boxes to gain access to coded digital TV broadcasts. Buyers of pirated cards can therefore get TV signals free.

EchoStar claims that NDS broke its code in its Israeli labs. EchoStar says its lawsuit can stand alone, but has filed its complaint as an intervention, making it an affix to the suit registered by Canal Plus. It also filed suit in the name of NagraStar, its joint venture with Switzerland's Kudelski Group, which makes the smart cards used with EchoStar's Dish system.

NDS called the claims baseless, and accused EchoStar of trying to divert attention from other problems it has, mainly concerning the acquisition of DirecTV from

Hughes Electronics

(NYSE:GMH), which is expected to meet with regulatory objections.

Canal Plus filed its suit against NDS in March 2002. It claimed, among other things, that NDS had disseminated the smart card cracking code over Internet, in order to hurt its business.

However, as a subsidiary of Vivendi, Canal Plus is reportedly considering suspending its legal actions against NDS, because NDS is a subsidiary of News Corp, which is angling to buy Vivendi's Italian pay-TV division, Telepiu.