RAP Act introduced in Congress to bar use of lyrics as evidence in court cases 

The Restoring Artistic Protection Act was introduced by two Black Democrats, Georgia's Hank Johnson and Jamaal Bowman of New York.

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A new bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives will seek to protect artists from having their lyrics used against them as evidence in criminal and civil proceedings. 

The bill, titled the Restoring Artistic Protection Act, was introduced by two Black Democratic congressmen, Hank Johnson of Georgia and Jamaal Bowman of New York. 

The Restoring Artistic Protection Act, introduced by two Black Democratic congressmen, Hank Johnson of Georgia (left) and Jamaal Bowman of New York (right), seeks to protest artists from having their lyrics used against them in civil and criminal proceedings. (Photos: Jemal Countess/Getty Images and Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As noted by Variety, the RAP Act would impact the Federal Rules of Evidence by adding a presumption “that would limit the admissibility of evidence of an artist’s creative or artistic expression against that artist in court.”

Famed attorney Dina LaPolt, wrote a guest column for Variety last year in which she noted that since 2020, over 500 cases have been adjudicated with lyrics admitted as evidence of guilt. She wrote, “This is blatant racism.” 

In a release about the new bill, its sponsors note: “Freddy Mercury did not confess to having ‘just killed a man’ by putting ‘a gun against his head’ and pulling the trigger. Bob Marley did not confess to having shot a sheriff. And Johnny Cash did not confess to shooting ‘a man in Reno, just to watch him die.’”

However, most recently, lyrics by Atlanta rapper Young Thug were used in the indictment of both he and fellow emcee Gunna, as well as over 20 of their associates in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act case in the state of Georgia. 

Per the Variety report, the indictment cited lyrics from nine Young Thug songs. 

In a statement of support, music industry veteran Kevin Liles, the chairman and CEO of 300 Elektra Entertainment — Young Thug’s label home — wrote: “Today, too many artists, almost always hip-hop artists, face allegations of wrongdoing which rely heavily on their lyrics as evidence. Beyond the disregard for free speech protected by the First Amendment, this racially targeted practice punishes already marginalized communities and their stories of family, struggle, survival, and triumph.”

“Black creativity and artistry are being criminalized, and this bill will help end that,” Liles maintained. “We must protect Black art.” 

According to the report, supporters of the legislation include the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Group, Warner Records, Atlantic Records, Warner Music Nashville, Artists Rights Alliance, SAG-AFTRA, the Black Music Action Coalition, the Music Artists Coalition, the Song Writers of North America (SONA), Warner Chappell Music, Warner Music Group, and Warner Music Latina. 

“Freedom of speech is the constitutional foundation the framers thought necessary to enable a new and free society to craft not only its own destiny through commerce and innovations, but through culture, expression, and art,” said Rep. Johnson. “It is no longer enough that the Bill of Rights guarantees that freedom: 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.”

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