Victory for Free Speech

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court strongly affirmed that the first amendment’s free speech protections are broad and may not lightly be curtailed. The case at hand dealt with a California law that would have punished retailers for selling violent video games to minors. By declaring the law unconstitutional, the court struck an important blow against censorship, and we in the arts community should consider this an important victory.

If you want to wonk out on why this case was so relevant to our membership, I invite you to read theĀ amicus curiae brief that we signed onto, in partnership with the Future of Music Coalition and NAMAC. For those without an appetite for long, dense legalese, a few tidbits:

Were the vague statute adopted by the State of California to become a normative standard, that result would have a tremendous chilling effect on free expression within the cultural community. The net effect of such restrictive pressures is incalculable. Creators would be forced to speculate about how far their creativity and expression may extend before triggering a punitive response based on a vague and indecipherable statute, and may limit their expression accordingly. The burden of this loss would ultimately be shouldered by a public unknowingly deprived of access to a broad assortment of expression from a diverse array of speakers.


The groups represented in this brief understand that the California statute applies at this time only to video games, and not to artists and musicians working in other media. Yet Arts and Music Amici recognize, as the Court must as well, that there is a thin line indeed between video games and other media content. For example, the music industry has struggled with issues regarding the labeling of musical content based on definitions of the suitability of its lyrics. Were the California statute upheld, it is possible to envision a scenario in which certain live performances by musicians, dance, or theatre organizations are unduly restricted.

Here’s the postmortem from FMC.

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