“They’re not going to arrest Stephen King for his words”: New California law restricts use of rap lyrics as evidence in lawsuits

On Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that would restrict the use of rap lyrics by courts as evidence in criminal cases.

The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act states that a court is required “in a criminal proceeding where a party wishes to admit some form of creative expression as evidence, to consider certain factors when weighing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial danger of improper bias. The bill passed unanimously in August in the California Senate and Assembly — the first in the nation.

“Artists of all kinds should be able to create without fear of unfair and adverse persecution,” Newsom said in a statement Friday. “California’s culture and entertainment industry set trends around the world and it is fitting that our state takes on a nation-leading role to protect creative expression and ensure that artists are not criminalized under biased policies.”

After the legislation was signed, rapper . said Ice Cube told TMZ he supported the movement and compared rap lyrics to thrilling novels: “They’re not going to arrest Stephen King for his words.”

The law came a few months after rapper Yung Thug was indicted by a grand jury in Atlanta, Georgia after he and other members of the “criminal street gang” YSL, of which Yung Thug co-founded, were charged with a slew of crimes, including violating RICO, attempted murder and murder. The indictment cited lyrics from nine of the artist’s songs, including “Smith & Wesson .45 put a hole in his heart / Better not play with me, killers they stay with me.” Yung Thug will be behind bars until his trial in January 2023; in June, he asked people to sign a petition asking lawmakers to enact laws restricting the use of song lyrics as evidence in court.

“This is unprecedented racism,” he said Dina LaPolt, entertainment attorney and co-founder of Songwriters of North America, on using song lyrics as evidence in court.

A number of rap artists virtually appeared at the signing ceremony on Friday, including Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Too $hort, Ty Dolla $ign, YG, E-40 and Tyga.

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During the signing ceremony, LaPolt also offered support for the move: “For too long, California prosecutors have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process. This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing black and brown artistic expression.”

In July, the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act was introduced in the US House of Representatives, and would also limit the extent to which song lyrics could be admitted as evidence against a suspect. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “We cannot lock up our talented artists for expressing their experiences, nor will we allow their creativity to be suppressed.”

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