Fine Print Not Fine Enough: Another Audio Company Settles with the FCC

Alleged violations involving labels and text in instruction manuals prove costly.

No doubt the FCC staff has its share of music lovers. But they still keep audio-equipment manufacturers on a short leash.

The biggest FCC fine in recent memory for an equipment violation – an even $1 million – came down against a company that marketed digital audio devices. Another company that distributes professional audio equipment settled with the FCC for $125,000. Still another company that makes professional gear settled for $72,000. The iconic guitar-maker Fender agreed to pay an impressive $265,000.

Now yet another professional audio company called Rane, which supplies both DJs and contractors, has agreed to hand over $61,500 because some of its gear (and the associated instruction manuals) did not contain certain fine print disclosures required by the FCC.

Each of these cases turns on the same set of rules. All digital devices, whether e-readers or audio mixing consoles, throw off stray radio waves as a by-product. The FCC regulates these emissions to minimize interference with radio communications. The rules specify test procedures, maximum emissions by frequency, labeling, and text for instruction manuals.

There is no suggestion that Rane’s equipment violated the technical rules. Its problems appear to have resulted entirely from wrong or missing labels and instruction-manual material.

In addition to the obvious financial discomfort, Rane also faces a number of operational burdens: it has committed to identifying a Compliance Officer, preparing a Compliance Manual, providing a Compliance Training Program, and submitting annual Compliance Reports to the FCC for the next four years. Plus, it must make sure that any unlabeled equipment that gets returned for service or repair is properly labeled before being returned to the customer.

We suggest that other electronics manufacturers take Rane’s misfortune as a reminder to check their own product labeling and paperwork.

Or perhaps you think you are safe – that the FCC will never find you. Think again. We don’t know how the Rane matter came to the FCC’s attention. But we do know that many enforcement actions originate with tips sent in by the offender’s competitors. If you have competitors, chances are they double as FCC agents who watch your company’s every move. The only good defense is to know the rules and comply with them.

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