A new piece of legislation introduced in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday would ban the use of lyrics from being used as evidence in legal claims.
The bill, dubbed the Restoring Artistic Protection Act, aims to limit the extent to which an artist’s “creative or artistic expression” can be admitted against a defendant.
“Except as provided in subsection (b), evidence of a defendant’s creative or artistic expression, whether original or derivative, is not admissible against such defendant in a criminal case,” the bill states.
The subsection includes exceptions, where the lyrics may be admitted if it has been determined that the defendant “intended a literal meaning,” they intended to adopt a literal meaning of unoriginal content, if the lyrics include specific references to the alleged crime, the lyrics are needed to determine facts of the case or if “the expression has distinct probative value not provided by other admissible evidence.”
Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, a cosponsor of the bill, said the bill targets an issue of free speech.
“Without further Congressional action, the freedom of speech and of artistic expression present in music will continue to be stifled, and that expression will be chilled, until the voices behind that protected speech are silenced,” Johnson said in a statement.
Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, another cosponsor of the bill, said in the same statement that he was “deeply moved” by the story of a 17-year-old serving a life sentence after having been convicted in part on lyric evidence and “continues to pursue his art in the face of our carceral systems that would otherwise stifle Black art.”
“We cannot imprison our talented artists for expressing their experiences nor will we let their creativity be suppressed,” Bowman said.
Leaders and members of music industry groups including Atlantic Records, SAG-AFTRA, Universal Music Group and the Black Music Action Coalition have expressed support for the bill.
CNN previously reported that Grammy-winning rapper Young Thug’s lyrics are being cited as evidence in a sweeping 56-count gang indictment, adding to the debate over whether lyrics are protected free speech.
CNN’s Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.