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State lawmakers weigh anti-piracy bill to allow warrantless searches of CD and DVD makers

The Recording Industry Assn. of America is pushing the legislation, which wants to give law enforcement officials the power to enter manufacturing plants without notice or court orders. But U.S. constitutional law scholars say the proposal may violate the 4th Amendment.

May 17, 2011|By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times

"The recording industry really wants this and may be able to persuade legislators to have some sort of inspection scheme," she said. "But the Legislature has to be careful that it puts together one that won't be subject to constitutional challenge."

A key legal element missing in the Padilla legislation is a standard for suspecting that counterfeiting is occurring, said Robert Fellmeth, a former prosecutor who now is executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego.

"If I were in the Legislature, I would say I want some kind of reasonable suspicion," Fellmeth said. "I would not want simply to leave an open door for the police."

Some executives at companies that legally replicate CDs and DVDs also don't like the idea of police suddenly swooping into their businesses even though they comply with state law by stamping each disc with a special identification marker that allows the tracking of copyright violations.

California already has enough laws to crack down on CD and DVD pirates without resorting to "unlawful search and seizure," said Dave Michelsen, general manager of CD Video Manufacturing Inc. in Santa Ana.

In recent years, the Legislature and three governors have approved half a dozen laws increasing criminal and civil penalties for counterfeiting and making it easier to prosecute piracy cases.

"They are welcome to come to our facility any time, 24 hours a day, if they ever thought we were doing anything illegal," Michelsen said. "We're pretty open with [the RIAA]. But I don't want to have a law that says our premises could be invaded any time without a warrant."

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