Private investigators hired by HBO -- Their job is to look in sports bars for pirates, who are individual subscribers that show the channel to their patrons

They’re HBO cops, it’s their job. Dozens of them, mostly private investigators hired by the premium cable channel, have been sweeping sports bars and entertainment establishments across the U.S. in search of pirates — people who sign up for cable service as individual household subscribers and then show HBO to their patrons.

So far the HBO posse has mounted one regional and two national raids. The sweeps occurred during three boxing contests, beginning in June 1990 with the George Foreman-Adilson Rodriguez and Mike Tyson-Henry Tillman doubleheader. The results: Out of 600 bars visited in 17 cities, nearly 200 lawsuits have been filed, charging violations of the Communications Act and the Copyright Act. ”Most cases were settled,” says HBO lawyer Steve Sapienza. ”Typically, we got a payment and a consent injunction against future use.” Sapienza won’t disclose the actual figure, but he admits, ”It’s much more than a night’s receipts — on a gross basis we’re talking about between $500,000 and $1 million in settlements.” In their continuing quest to discourage thievery, the HBO team will ride again during the Foreman-Jimmy Ellis bout on Dec. 7. Pirates beware: Intrepid protectors of cable don’t dress like Joe Friday.