For years The Netherlands has been a hot-spot on the European pirate scene. Dozens, if not hundreds, of FM stations operate there with relative impunity. The impetus for Dutch pirates has been a cultural one - popular niche music (such as dance and electronica) are all but ignored by the country's commercial outlets. Pirates have rushed to fill the void, using hundreds of watts of power in the process.
For a country less than twice the size of the American state of New Jersey, you'd think their "radio police" would have little problem shutting stations down. But the State Agency for Radiocommunications, or RDR, has been unable to clear the airwaves of pirates, who often resume broadcasting almost immediately after being caught.
Several tactics have been tried in the Dutch war against pirate radio. First the RDR issued stiff fines against unlicensed broadcasters, but many were overturned in court when the judges ruled that the RDR hadn't collected "sufficient evidence" to justify the penalty. Measuring and monitoring an unlicensed radio signal is not enough - if agents don't confirm the actual presence of a pirate transmitter with their own eyes, then there isn't enough grounds to issue a fine.
Then the RDR began massive sweeps to raid and confiscate pirate radio gear; this worked in the short-term, but the well-organized scene in The Netherlands made it easy for those busted to acquire replacement broadcast equipment in little or no time.
Now, the RDR may have hit on a tactic that actually works. Instead of going after the pirate stations themselves, the agency is issuing stiff fines (ranging in amounts from US $1,000 to $32,000) against the owners of the properties that pirates operate from.
The RDR's belief is that those who own the property don't want the hassle and will be more likely to roll over and evict the broadcasters. Fining the property owner also sends a message to others who may host an unlicensed station: even though you are not directly involved in the broadcasts, you'll be held accountable for aiding and abetting the illegality.
Lex van Dijken, who runs the weekend pirate station Kiss FM and covers the Dutch pirate scene extensively on his web site Etherpiraten.com, says this new trend of enforcement is making some headway. Radio Rataplan, one of the oldest and most-respected pirate stations in the country, has announced its intention to cease broadcasting this month.
However, van Dijken thinks there is still a good chance that property owners cited for harboring unlicensed broadcasts can successfully fight the fine in the courts. "It's hard to prove that the owner of the building knew about the illegal broadcasts," says Lex.
"There are people who don't go to court. If they did, they would win, but not everybody knows that."
van Dijken predicts the success of this tactic will be temporary, too: "Usually the stations get back [on the air], but from a different location, because the tactic only counts for the location the RDR found the station/transmitter on. The simplest thing to do is move to another transmitter site and you can continue your broadcasts."