Expected to be signed by Governor in days.

The California Assembly unanimously passed a bill yesterday (Feb. 14) that would make it a felony to possess 100 or more audio recordings when the name of the owner or artist is concealed for some commercial advantage or financial gain. The bill, which passed the state senate last week and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger within days, puts teeth in the existing law that is used to prosecute music pirates and bootleggers.

Currently California law makes it a crime to advertise, sell, rent, manufacture or possess audio recordings or audiovisual works that do not disclose their origin – such as the name of the record company, performing artist or film company – if concealing the originator is done for some commercial advantage or private financial gain. The crime is punishable as a felony if it involves 100 or more audiovisual works or 1,000 or more audio recordings; otherwise it is a misdemeanor.

The motion picture industry successfully lobbied California legislators to make the number of audiovisual works 100 units as the felony threshold. The music industry had a tougher time getting the number of audio recordings reduced.

Assembly member Rebecca Cohn (D-San Jose) who introduced the bill, co-authored by Senator Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles), last December tells Billboard.biz that it took about four years to make this change for the music industry. It was a challenge to gain support from other legislators and to convince them that reducing the threshold for audio recordings was important enough to overcome objections that the crime could be counted as one of the three strikes possibly leading to life imprisonment under the state's three-strikes felony law, she says.

Cohn believes that music piracy is a global epidemic that funds organized criminal activities. As a misdemeanor, those arrested under the current law receive only a virtual hand slap as a penalty. Lowering the threshold to make the crime a felony will have a big deterrent effect, she says.

"I'm doing my part for the creative community," Cohn adds. "We have cause to celebrate."