Lawmakers in Massachusetts are hard at work trying to outlaw unlicensed broadcasting. H.1679 was introduced in the state House of Representatives in January and got a hearing in the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary just last week. Floor votes are expected before the end of the year.

If approved, Massachusetts would become the fourth state in the country to pass an anti-pirate radio law.

Florida was first in 2004, making unlicensed broadcasting a third-degree felony. (Interestingly, interfering with government radio systems is only a first-degree misdemeanor.) New Jersey and New York followed in 2006 and 2011 respectively. Pirates snagged under New Jersey’s law face a fourth-degree felony charge.

In New York, "unauthorized transmission" is currently class A misdemeanor – though a bill is wending its way through the legislature to stiffen the penalty to a class D felony.

Interestingly, Massachusetts’ proposal does not make unlicensed broadcasting a criminal offense. Instead, the bill would empower the state Attorney General to initiate legal action against a pirate broadcaster, which could result in an injunction, monetary forfeiture ($5,000 on first blush, $10,000 if a pirate violates an injunction), and seizure of equipment. It would also allow licensed broadcasters to sue pirate stations in civil court for similar relief.

This effort is being spearheaded by House Representatives Steven Walsh (D-Lynn) and Robert Fennell (D-Lynn), at the behest of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association. The MBA claims the bill is necessary because "several" broadcasters have complained that pirate stations are "impeding their signals."

The Boston metropolitan area has long been a national hot-spot for pirate broadcasting, on both the AM and FM dials, and the FCC has already raided two stations there this year. However, one station in particular – Touch 106.1 – has had such a long run and high profile that many local media outlets don’t even call it a pirate station anymore. Touch FM’s founder, Charles Clemons, is currently running for mayor of Boston, and the station just acquired the services of Jimmy Myers, a long-time sportscaster and talk-show host.

Clemons is not unknown to the FCC: it fined him $17,000 for unlicensed broadcasting in 2008 – a forfeiture that technically expired in May of this year. It’s highly unlikely that this state law was specifically tailored to attack Clemons and Touch, but if it passes you can bet they’ll be one of its first test cases.

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