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California’s Anti-Piracy Bill Would Allow Warrantless Searches

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As a native Californian, I generally take pride in the fact that I’m a resident of a state that typically is on the cutting edge in the areas of legal reform and civil rights advocacy.  The laws and proposed legislation here generally slant towards the liberal and common sense, such as last year’s Proposition 19, which although it failed to pass, was the first proposed law that would have made marijuana legal for recreational use.  California is a state rooted in progressiveness; that’s why it’s so shocking when I see proposed laws like this one originating from the Golden State.

Does anyone else spot a clear Fourth Amendment violation, too?  You should, because if democratic Sen. Alex Padilla has his way the police will soon be authorized to raid compact disc and DVD manufacturing plants without being required to get a warrant or even give any notice to the owners or occupants in the plant.  Under SB 550, cops would be allowed to check to see if the discs being pressed by these manufacturers contain the proper identification marks as required by law.

The impetus behind the proposed legislation is to curb music and movie piracy.  And as you have probably all already guessed, the Recording Industry Association of America is behind the law one hundred percent.  They and Sen. Padilla cite that the new law would help to stamp out the growing losses suffered by the music and film industries, losses that they attribute to illegally made discs containing pirated content.  This is because discs pressed at professional manufacturing plants are different from those that you burn on your computer because the process for the former ensures greater fidelity and less artifacts in sound and video.  Essentially, people who buy the ill-made goods get a professional quality product, but at a fraction of the legitimate version’s price.

Now there’s no doubt that piracy is slowly killing these creative industries.  In 2005, research groups estimate that these industries took a hit to the tune of $3.6 billion due to music and movie pirates.  Padilla states that the Latino music industry has suffered the most from the sale of illegally manufactured CDs.

However, before I jump into the constitutional issues with this new law, it’s important to first address the fact that people are apparently still buying CDs and DVDs.  Who knew, right?  The RIAA states that they seized over 800,000 pirated CDs in 2010 alone, which is surprising considering that movies and films are easily downloadable for free to anyone who know where to look.  And for those who don’t, finding out how isn’t necessarily rocket science.

Anyway, back to the case at point.  SB 550 seems to come in complete and direct conflict with the Fourth Amendment which protects against illegal searches and seizures.  The law is very clear in this area.

Actually strike that, the law is still pretty ambiguous in the sense that Fourth Amendment protections are challenged and invoked on a daily basis.  Don’t believe me?  Pick up the crime section in a newspaper or better yet, watch “The Wire,” it’s the closest thing to a criminal law class at home.

Anyway, what I should have said is that in this particular instance, the notion of police being allowed to enter private property unannounced and then search through the property of another and seizing anything that is found to be in violation of the law is clearly a practice that has been ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.  The Fourth Amendment in this circumstance cannot be clearer.  The police cannot enter your property whether you are a private citizen or a business without probable cause and a warrant.  The US Supreme Court made this clear in Illinois v. Gates.

If you took a look at that link, the instant case clearly violates Gates.  Police are required to have probable cause and a warrant to enter premises and seize property.  State legislators can’t get around this rule because it’s one that is required by the US Constitution.  The only way it could ever change is if Congress amended the Constitution, and we all know that’s next to impossible.  That’s why it seems so funny that the RIAA and Sen. Padilla think they can get away with this.  Even if the bill is somehow passed into law, you can bet that there’s going to be a civil rights group or some individual ready to challenge SB 550’s constitutionality.

And they’ll win, too.


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