New York Senate Passes a Bill to Protect Artists from their Lyrics in Court.
Hip-hop has had an adversarial relationship with the law since its inception. From NWA to Eminem to Bobby Shmurda, there is a history of artists being persecuted by the government for the lyrics in their art. More recently we’ve seen artists like Young Thug and Gunna incarcerated and questioned about their lyrics in court.
Recently the New York Senate passed the “Rap Music On Trial” bill (S7527) in an attempt to protect artists from having their lyrics used against them in court. The legislation will set a precedent that prosecutors need to prove that the lyrics mentioned in any given song are literal and not figurative.
The bill states “In order to overcome the presumption of inadmissibility of evidence of defendant’s creative expression, the proffering party must affirmatively prove by clear and convincing evidence: literal, rather than figurative or fictional, meaning and, where the work is derivative, that the defendant intended to adopt the literal meaning of the work as the defendant’s own thought or statement.”
Meaning that if the Rap Music On Trial Bill passes the New York State Assembly and is then signed into law by the Governor, rappers could still have their lyrics presented in court however the burden is now on the prosecution to prove that lyrics are literal.
Per this bill, there are four levels of criteria that would allow lyrics to be used against an artist in court:
- (a) literal, rather than figurative or fictional, meaning and, where the work is derivative, that the defendant intended to adopt the literal meaning of the work as the defendant’s own thought or statement;
- (b) a strong factual nexus indicating that the creative expression refers to the specific facts of the crime alleged;
- (c) relevance to an issue of fact that is disputed; and
- (d) distinct probative value not provided by other admissible evidence.
Read the full bill here: https://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2021/S7527
Hip-hop artists are facing an inequity in prosecution compared to other art forms. Pop artists, country singers, and comedians rarely have their art used as evidence against them. The authentic and straightforward nature of hip-hop has blurred the line between art and reality. Without a legal precedent set by bills like the Rap Music on Trial Bill, the interpretation of the difference between art and reality is left wide open for jurors to decide. Whereas with a framework for understanding how hip-hop should be interpreted in court, the burden of proving the difference between art and reality is now on the prosecution to even enter lyrics as evidence.
As of July 9th, 2022 the bill has passed the New York Senate and has been delivered to the New York State Assembly, if passed by the Assembly – it’s up to the Governor to pass it. Artists like Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Killer Mike, and Fat Joe have come out in support of this bill and if passed it could set a precedent for other state governments to follow.
Follow the progress of the Rap Music On Trial Bill: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/s7527