MPAA Looses The Hounds

MPAA Looses The Hounds

The MPAA is rolling out a new technology in its war on pirated DVDs. This new weapon features the latest in olfactory recognition, operates without batteries for long stretches of time, and is trained not to make a mess on the living-room rug. That's right, the MPAA's new weapon against copyright infringement is a pair of black Labrador dogs. All together now: awwwwww.

The dogs, both 4-years old (in human years) are named Lucky and Flo. After being selected for their rambunctiousness – key to being a good sniffing dog – they spent several months in training, learning the unique scent of a polycarbonate DVD. The dogs can't tell by smell which DVDs are genuine and which pirated, of course, but they are skilled at spotting the discs even in difficult conditions. In a British airport, the Post reports, the dogs found a single DVD inside a suitcase full of canned meat. No telling whether the DVD was pirated, however, or why the suitcase's owner was carting around so much SPAM. The dogs have cost the MPAA almost thirty thousand dollars, but the organization says they've already earned that price back and more, having identified six million dollars' worth of pirated DVDs in Malaysia alone earlier this year.

The dogs represent an interesting new tactic for the MPAA; in contrast to the RIAA, whose lawsuit campaign targets consumer-level infringers, the MPAA is going after the distributors of pirated movies, the kingpins behind the cheap Canal Street burned DVDs. It's unclear, however, how and where the MPAA conducts its sniff tests: in the British airport example, for instance, were the dogs sniffing passengers' luggage? Are police accompanying the dogs, forcing the sniff-suspects to show any DVDs in their possession? The MPAA is, after all, trying to convince governments around the world to enlist DVD-sniffers of their own.


Thumbnail photo courtesy of Tostie14.



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Philippines buys some of those kind of dogs for their campaign against piracy. But I don't think that will not help to fully eliminate their problem



In the United States, all searches must be authorized by a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement. In drug cases, dog sniffs do not qualify as searches because they reveal only contraband, and nobody has a reasonable expectation of privacy in contraband. (Note that individual states may be more protective of individual rights when they apply their state constitutions.)

But if these dogs cannot distinguish between pirated and non-pirated DVDs, I suspect that their sniffs would be considered searches. In that case, officers would need to have either a warrant or some exception to the warrant requirement. Two likely exceptions that come to mind are exigent circumstances ("The evidence will disappear if we don't search now; no time to get a warrant!") or consent ("Mind if the dog takes a sniff?").

We'll see how it all works out.



The original sniff may not be a search, but detaining people long enough to be smelled counts as a seizure. If the dogs indicate the presence of contraband, police then have to conduct a search to find it (but the dog's reaction will probably qualify as probable cause).

The special needs exception to the 4th Amendment's warrant requirement is an increasingly broad loophole. To my knowledge it hasn't extended beyond searches incidental to legitimate traffic stops and searches in public schools. t's not hard to imagine, however, that the necessity of ferreting out piracy could be considered another such "special need," especially if the dog-sniffing is only conducted while people are being stopped for some legitimate purpose, like airport security checkpoints.


Mad Beaver

The article brings up a good point. Say this dog singles out your suitcase. What right do police, or anyone else have to open it? Where is the probable cause? Just because I have a copy of "The sound of music" in my suitcase, does that mean police should be allowed to open it and inspect it to determine if it's genuine? I think not. And for anyone who thinks they should, that is a "prove your innocent" stance....which is not what this country is about.
I hope the MPAA is aiming these dogs towards smuggling….for example a shipping container whose paperwork says it contains ping-pong balls, and yet these dogs detect the smell of DVD’s, that might be a legit use.



Hey mad beaver, there are many countries around the world where you are guilty until proven innocent. So one of these dogs keying on your luggage is all that would be needed for your arrest/search.

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