D.C. Court of Appeals Hands Down Decisions on Pirate Stations

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Washington, DC - Feb 8, 2002 - The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has handed down decisions in two appellant cases regarding pirate radio and those who operate unlicensed LPFM stations.

In the first case, Grid Radio vs. FCC, the Court found that "absent a demonstration that the FCC's ban on low-power FM stations was indisputably unlawful or unconstitutional, the FCC had no obligation to reconsider the ban in the context of an enforcement proceeding against appellant, a single unlicensed operator, and the forfeiture of his station is reasonable under the circumstances of his case." Jerry Szoka, operator of unlicensed LPFM station "Grid Radio" in Cleveland from 1995 to 2000, had filed the appeal in hopes of regaining an $11,000 forfeiture of equipment which would allow him to continue broadcasting. The Courts decision, in essence, states that unless and until the FCC's ban on LPFM stations was proven unlawful, the Commission could continue to shut down pirate stations and seize equipment.

In the second case, Ruggiero vs. FCC, the Court agreed with appellant, an unlicensed microbroadcaster, that the FCC's LPFM "character qualification" provision, which permanently prohibits anyone who ever "engaged in any manner in the unlicensed operation of any station in violation of ... the Communications Act of 1934" from obtaining a low-power FM radio license, is unconstitutional.

The appellant in this case, Greg Ruggiero had been affiliated with microbroadcasting stations in New York City and elsewhere and found that because of that affiliation, the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000's "character qualification" provision prohibited him from receiving a legitimate LPFM license. The Court found nothing in the Act, its legislative history, or its record to justify the character qualification provision's "unique and draconian" sanction for broadcast piracy, nor to explain why a more limited restriction would not achieve Congress's objective.

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