California statute offers protection for artists' lyrics


By Marie E. Matyjaszek

Music has always been a creative outlet for individuals to showcase their talent and imagination by creating songs others can enjoy. Creators frequently take artistic liberty with lyrics, keeping people guessing as to the real meaning behind the song, like “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus, while simultaneously generating a lot of buzz. 

Lyrics that refer to criminal activity are certainly nothing new to the industry, with some referencing true events. Others, however, are simply tongue-in-cheek and have no basis in reality. 

California became the first state in the nation to restrict the use of rap lyrics in court when Assembly Bill 2799 unanimously passed and was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in late 2022. 

Newson hailed his signing of the landmark bill, as his office tweeted, “CA is the 1st state to ensure creative content, like lyrics & music videos, can’t be used against artists in court without judicial review.”

The law now requires judges to balance the value of the evidence with the “undue prejudice” and possible racial bias when that evidence is presented to a jury.

Rap music has impacted racial bias already existing in the judicial system, as the primary producers of this genre are Black men. Many lyrics are told from a first-person perspective, leading prosecutors to argue that the words are self-incriminating, using them as evidence against the accused. 

The legislation was spurred after Grammy award-winning rapper Young Thug was indicted last year in Georgia under terms of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Some of his lyrics reportedly were used as evidence in his indictment. 

The law applies to multiple forms of creative expression, including music videos, offering artists broader protection. The goal is to reduce racial bias in California’s criminal courts, and frankly this is something needed in all 50 states. 

New York proposed a similar bill, but it did not receive approval by the State Assembly.

Racial bias in the court system is a serious and long-standing issue. By passing laws like this, the hope is that other states follow suit and thoroughly investigate how they can take action. 

Doing so would be music to all of our ears.


 The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court, however, the views expressed in this column are her own. She can bre reached at  

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