This week, the FCC released two Notices of Apparent Liability proposing to impose big fines on two pirate radio operators. Using the enforcement tools – particularly the higher fines – authorized by the PIRATE Act passed by Congress in 2020, the FCC proposed a to impose a fine of $2,316,034 on one alleged operator of a pirate radio station in the New York City area, and a fine of $80,000 fine on another operator of a pirate station in Oregon. We’ve written in the past about the FCC sending warning letters to landowners and pirate radio operators threatening big fines if they don’t cease operations (or, for landowners, if they don’t force their tenants to cease illegal operations). But, as noted in the FCC’s Press Release, this is the first time since the adoption of the PIRATE Act that the FCC has gone beyond the warning phase to issue these notices of multimillion dollar “forfeitures” (fines) on pirate operators and, in the New York case, use the full force permitted by the law to levy the multimillion dollar fine. Theoretically, the alleged pirates could respond to the Notices and contest the fines, but the FCC’s decisions seem adamant that these operators should be paying a substantial penalty. It is probably no coincidence that these Notices were issued a little over a month after the FCC sent its annual report to Congress on its activities under the PIRATE Act, promising increased efforts to combat pirate radio in the new year.
The New York pirate appears particularly brazen, prompting the largest fine yet levied against a pirate radio operator. According to the Notice of Apparent Liability, two individuals have operated a pirate radio station in the New York borough of Queens for over a decade. In 2013, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued three Notices of Unauthorized Operation to the operators, warning them that their operations were illegal and needed to stop. In 2014, agents personally confronted one of the operators who admitted ownership of the equipment, and again told him to stop operating. When operations continued, a proposed fine of $20,000 was issued in 2015, but never paid or contested. In 2016, as operations had continued, Federal Marshalls seized the station’s equipment. Yet the pirate came back and continued operations – even using a website and social media to promote programs hosted by the two individuals named in this week’s Notice. The FCC emphasized that the repeated, ongoing nature of the violation even after multiple warnings and prior government action prompted its substantial fine. The PIRATE statute limits fines to $2,316,034 – otherwise, the FCC would have proposed a fine ten times larger, given the nature of the violation and the pirate’s apparent disregard of the FCC’s prior attempts to enforce the law.Continue Reading Two Million Dollar Fine for Pirate Radio – Don’t Cross the Commission Again After You’ve Been Caught Once, Especially as More Enforcement Appears to be on the Way