The PIRATE Act, imposing Federal penalties on pirate radio station operators, was passed last week by the US House of Representatives and referred to the US Senate for consideration. We wrote about versions of this bill introduced in prior Congressional sessions here and here. This bill, among other things, would impose penalties of up to $100,000 a day for violations of the Act, up to a total maximum fine of $2 million. It also imposes on the FCC the obligation to report annually to Congress on its activities to crack down on pirate radio, including its efforts to coordinate with the US Attorney’s office and other government officials to seize the equipment of illegal operators of pirate stations. The House passage of this legislation was lauded by Commissioner O’Rielly at the NAB’s recent Leadership Conference in Washington DC, as he has been an aggressive advocate of stronger action against pirate operators.
The Act places particular emphasis on markets identified as being among the top 5 for such illegal broadcasts – requiring the FCC to assign appropriate enforcement officials to those markets at least one a year to do sweeps to locate pirate stations. It also gives the FCC the ability to immediately issue a Notice of Apparent Liability (proposing a fine) without first having to give notice to the pirate radio operator that they are acting illegally. It also requires that the FCC maintain a searchable database of reports of pirate radio operations. While the bill says that penalties can be imposed on “any person who willfully and knowingly does or causes or suffers to be done any pirate radio broadcasting,” which is a broad definition, it does not specifically identify landlords and advertisers as being subject to action, as some past proposals have. The FCC itself has been fining landlords in recent cases (for example, in the case we wrote about here), so perhaps it is now viewed that this provision is not required. In any event, the bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.