CGA Law News & Blog

Sometimes, Song Lyrics Are Not Free Speech

access_time Posted on: January 17th, 2019

Article by: Jeffrey L. Rehmeyer II, Esquire

Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a music video that ordered violence against two specific police officers was not protected Free Speech.

Jamal Knox and Rashee Beasley were both arrested for drug and weapons charges. While the charges were pending, they wrote and recorded a rap song entitled, ”F_ _k the Police,” which was put on video with still photos of Knox and Beasley displayed in a montage. In the photos, the two are looking into the camera and motioning as if firing weapons. The video was then uploaded to YouTube by a third party and the YouTube link was placed on a publicly viewable Facebook page entitled “Beaz Mooga,” which the evidence strongly suggested belonged to Beasley.

The lyrics in the song expressed hatred toward the Pittsburgh Police. They contained descriptions of killing police, informants and police officers. And the lyrics actually referred to two police officers by name. The lyrics suggested that Knox and Beasley knew when the officer’s shifts would end and that crimes depicted in the song may occur in their homes. The lyrics also contained a reference to Richard Poplawski, who several years earlier had strapped himself with weapons and murdered three Pittsburgh Police Officers. Finally, the song included background sounds of gunfire and police sirens.

Based upon the lyrics, the authorities sought convictions against Knox and Beasley for witness intimidation and terroristic threats. The rap song was the sole basis for those changes. The question presented by the lyrics in the song was this – Do they communicate a true “threat” falling outside of the protection of the First Amendment.

The Court reviewed the lyrics, verse by verse and line by line, for purposes of determining whether the rap video constituted protected free speech or a true threat punishable by criminal sanction. The Court ruled that the lyrics were not protected free speech when they said “Let’s kill the cops ‘cuz they don’t do us no good.” Chief Justice Saylor further wrote that the lyrics “Do not merely address grievances about police-community relations or generalized animosity towards police… Rather, they primarily portray violence toward the police, ostensibly due to the officers interference with (Knox and Beasley’s) criminal activities.”

As occurs in legal analysis, the rights of those involved are weighed against one another. In this case, the Court found that the nature of the lyrics exceeded the protections of Free Speech and thus subjected Knox and Beasley to prosecution for terroristic threats and intimidation of witnesses.

If you have questions with regard to Free Speech, copyright lyrics and even select criminal issues, contact the CGA Law Firm and one of our attorneys, who has experience in the appropriate area of law, will assist you.