United States v. Moghadam

175 F.3d 1269 (11th Cir. 1999)



Congress has the legislative authority to regulate Commerce under U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3. The Commerce Clause empowers Congress to legislate regarding three things: (i) the use of channels of interstate commerce; (ii) instrumentalities and persons or things in interstate commerce; and (iii) intrastate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. The applicable test is whether a rational basis existed for concluding that a regulated activity sufficiently affected interstate commerce. To survive Commerce Clause scrutiny, the statute must bear more than a generic relationship several steps removed from interstate commerce, and it must be a relationship that is apparent, not creatively inferred.


In 1994, Congress passed a statute criminalizing the unauthorized recording, the transmission to the public, and the sale or distribution of or traffic in unauthorized recordings of live musical performances and was loosely known as the anti-bootlegging statute. Appellant Ali Moghadam was convicted for violating that statute after he pleaded guilty to knowingly distributing, selling, and trafficking in bootleg (unauthorized) compact discs featuring live musical performances by recording artists including Tori Amos and the Beastie Boys. In the district court, Moghadam moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the statute was unconstitutional because it did not fall within any of the federal legislative powers enumerated in Article I, § 8 of the Constitution. The government responded that it was constitutional under either the Copyright Clause or the Commerce Clause. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The present appeal challenges the constitutional power of Congress to enact this legislation.


Is the statute unconstitutional for being an invalid exercise of federal legislative powers?




The court affirmed the judgment of the lower court. After determining that the copyright clause of the Constitution only applied to "writings," which did not include live musical performances, the court held that the statute could not be upheld as enacted under the Copyright Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8. However the court determined that under Congress's Commerce Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3, bootlegging had a substantial impact on interstate commerce, as it affected the economic gain of the artists. The court determined that the statute was a proper extension of the Commerce Clause. The court then concluded that the statute did not conflict with the limitation within the Copyright Clause, and was, in fact, in harmony with that clause. The court upheld the constitutionality of the statute, and affirmed the conviction.

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