Bill to Limit Song Lyrics’ Use in Court Reintroduced in Congress – Billboard

Representatives from the Black Music Coalition (BMAC), the Recording Academy and SAG-AFTRA came together with Congressmen Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) on Capitol Hill Thursday (April 27) to reintroduce the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act, a bill that would limit the use of song lyrics in court — a practice that disproportionately affects Black artists working in rap and hip-hop.

“Since the 1990s, there are hundreds literally hundreds of documented cases where prosecutors use lyrics as criminal evidence in court and this practice disproportionately affects rap artists,” said Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. during a press conference announcing the bill’s reintroduction. “But this act is absolutely not just about hip-hop artists. Silencing creative expression is a violation against all artists and all forms of creative expression. The Restoring Artistic Protection Act affirms that every single artist, no matter the discipline, should be able to express themselves without fear of prosecution.”

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, who was also in attendance, advocated for the First Amendment rights of musicians. “Rap music actually is folk music, because folk music is the voice of the people,” she said. “I urge Congress to pass the RAP act to ensure fair and equitable treatment in the justice system.”

First introduced in July 2022, if passed, the RAP Act would be the first federal law to limit the use of lyrics in criminal cases.

Also participating in the press conference was 300 Elektra Entertainment CEO Kevin Liles, who urged bipartisan support for the bill: “For the first time in a long time, I have hope…in groups on the right and the left both saying that this is against the values of Americans.”

The revived interest in the issue of rap lyrics being used in court came about due to the May 2022 indictment against rappers Young Thug and Gunna along with dozens of others on RICO charges, with prosecutors claiming their group YSL was not really a record label called “Young Stoner Life” but a violent Atlanta street gang called “Young Slime Life.” The 88-page indictment cited lyrics and music videos as evidence, including quotes from Young Thug songs including, “I never killed anybody but got something to do with that body” and “I killed his man in front of his momma.”

Though Young Thug remains in custody ahead of trial, Gunna was released in December after pleading guilty to a gang-related charge.

On the state level, a similar bill in California known as the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in September. In New York, another bill known as “Rap Music on Trial” passed the state’s Senate in May but failed to secure a vote in the New York Assembly before the end of last year’s legislative session. Comparable bills are making their way through the sate legislatures in both Louisiana and Missouri.

“As a music creator myself, I know how important it is that we safeguard artists’ freedom to create at all costs, and to work to eradicate the biases that come with the unconstitutional practice of using lyrics as evidence, which disproportionately affects artists of color, and penalizes the creativity of Black and brown fields,” added songwriter-producer-artist Rico Love, who serves as chair of the Recording Academy’s Black Music Collective.

Love added, “Music makers are storytellers who have provided important insight into our country throughout history. We have the responsibility to protect them and their works of creative expression, which helped define American culture.”

The announcement of the RAP Act’s reintroduction followed the Recording Academy’s annual GRAMMYs on the Hill, a two-day event that honored Pharrell Williams, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Bill Cassidy and connected music creators with members of Congress to advocate for the RAP Act, the HITS Act, the American Music Fairness Act and reform in the live event ticketing space.

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