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Piracy is Now a “Public Nuisance” in Los Angeles County


This is why I’m a libertarian. If you give the government a power, they will find a way to abuse it. It doesn’t matter how benign or legitimate that power may seem on it’s surface. Some public official will find a way to torture the definition of a term to serve either his/her own agenda, or the agenda of someone who’s paying him/her off. That’s why government should be kept as small as possible.

LA CountyPiracy has been called many things, but Los Angeles County is adding a new appellation to the list: public nuisance. As first reported by Wired, the county’s Board of Supervisors has just adopted a new ordinance (PDF) that gives the authorities broad discretion to crack down on properties where piracy happens.

Fines, temporary evictions, and the seizure and sale of the property involved in piracy are all remedies that the county can pursue now that piracy is classed as a public nuisance that “substantially interferes with the interest of the public in the quality of life and community peace, lawful commerce in the county, property values, and is detrimental to the public health, safety, and welfare of the county’s citizens, its businesses, and its visitors.” Also, to tax revenue; one report notes that “state and local tax revenue loss to the County [from counterfeit goods] is estimated at over $483 million.”

So can the county seize your house and computers just for downloading a couple of unauthorized tracks? Not exactly. In this case, “piracy” actually means “piracy,” and it refers to the “manufacturing, distributing, selling, or possessing for sale of counterfeit goods, or recordings or audiovisual works which are improperly labeled under California Penal Code section 653w.”

As an explanatory note says, “The proposed ordinance is intended to help address the problems associated with properties used for the possession and sale of counterfeit goods in the unincorporated areas of the County through civil nuisance abatement procedures.” Not surprisingly, the rule change was based upon “recent input” from the MPAA and RIAA.

If the piracy was intentional, the property owner can be fined up to $1,000 for each “recording or audiovisual work whose cover, box, jacket, or label fails to accurately disclose the information regarding the manufacturer and the author, artist, performer, producer, programmer, or group.” Damages can be trebled if the property owner is busted for the same offense within a two-year period.

In addition, the property can be closed until the owner proves to a court that the problem has been remedied. The sheriff is required to post a copy of the judgment at the property, and just defacing or interfering with this document can net you and additional $1,000 fine.

These are tough penalties, especially since they don’t preclude any other charges from being brought, but they appear targeted at commercial pirates. What stands out about the story is how local the MPAA and RIAA are willing to go in the fight against piracy. Already active on the international, national, and state levels, content owners are pushing their agenda even in counties.

While pressing for such a rule in Los Angeles isn’t particularly surprising, we’re curious to see how aggressively the groups will push this local approach as they identify new counterfeiting hotspots in the US.

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