April 27, 2023

NEWS: Congressmen Bowman, Johnson Re-Introduce Bill To Protect Artists’ 1st Amendment Rights

For Immediate Release

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”
“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’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressmen Jamaal Bowman Ed.D. (NY-16) and Hank Johnson (GA-04) re-introduced the Restoring Artistic Protection Act (RAP Act) to protect artists from the wrongful use of their lyrics against them in criminal and civil proceedings. The legislation, originally introduced in the 117th Congress, is the first bill of its kind at the federal level. The RAP Act adds a presumption to the Federal Rules of Evidence that would limit the admissibility of evidence of an artist’s creative or artistic expression against that artist in court. As of 2020, prosecutors in more than 500 criminal cases have used artists’ lyrics as evidence against the artist. 

The Congressmen announced re-introduction of the RAP Act along with the recording industry, TV & radio artists and 1st Amendment advocates gathered on Capitol Hill – including Rico Love, two-time GRAMMY® nominee, chair of the Recording Academy®’s Black Music Collective; Harvey Mason jr., CEO of the Recording Academy; Prophet, Co-Founder/Chair of Black Music Action Coalition; Fran Drescher, President Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG AFTRA); Kevin Liles, Chairman & CEO, 300 Elektra Entertainment; and Joe Cohn, Legislative and Policy Director of Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

“Rap, hip-hop and every lyrical musical piece is a beautiful form of art and expression that must be protected,” said Congressman Jamaal Bowman Ed.D. (NY-16). “I am proud to introduce the RAP Act alongside Rep. Hank Johnson. Our judicial system disparately criminalizes Black and brown people, including Black and brown creativity. For example, Tommy Munsdwell Canady is a young 17-year-old kid serving a life sentence whose conviction heavily relied upon lyrics he wrote. I was deeply moved to hear that Mr. Canady continues to pursue his art in the face of our carceral systems that would otherwise stifle Black art. He is not an outlier. Evidence shows when juries believe lyrics to be rap lyrics, there’s a tendency to presume it’s a confession, whereas lyrics for other genres of music are understood to be art, not factual reporting. This act would ensure that our evidentiary standards protect the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. We cannot imprison our talented artists for expressing their experiences nor will we let their creativity be suppressed.”

“This legislation is long overdue,” said Congressman Hank Johnson. “For too long, artists – particularly young Black artists – have been unfairly targeted by prosecutors who use their lyrics as evidence of guilt, even though there is no evidence that the lyrics are anything more than creative expression. When you allow music and creativity to be silenced, you’re opening the door for other realms of free speech to be curtailed as well. The government should not be able to silence artists simply because they write, draw, sing, or rap about controversial or taboo subjects. The Restoring Artistic Protection Act (RAP Act) would protect artists’ First Amendment rights by limiting the admissibility of their lyrics as evidence in criminal and civil proceedings.”

The First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of expression. But freedom of expression is stifled when safeguards are not in place to ensure that an artist’s art is not wrongfully used as evidence against that artist. The RAP Act puts those safeguards in place to ensure that First Amendment protection is a reality for all artists in America.

Cosponsors: Reps. Jamaal Bowman (Co-Lead), Bush, Carson, Carter (LA), Crockett, Garcia (Robert), Jackson Lee, Jayapal, Kamlager-Dove, Lee (CA), Lee (PA), McGovern, Mullin, Ocasio-Cortez, Payne Jr, Porter, Thompson (MS), Tlaib, Williams, Wilson (FL).

To read the bill, click HERE. Watch on The Recording Academy’s Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/p/CrjMxqzpC1l/

Supported by: Artists Rights Alliance, Recording Academy (the GRAMMYs), 300 Elektra Entertainment, Atlantic Records, Warner Chappell Music, Warner Music Group, Warner Music Latina, Warner Music Nashville, Warner Records, Universal Music Group, PEN America, Georgia NAACP, Black Music Artists Coalition (BMAC), Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and Live Nation Entertainment.


“We’re honored to join a united music community standing up for free speech, creative artistry, and the most fundamental civil rights. We applaud Ranking Member Johnson and Rep. Bowman for leading the fight against the discriminatory use of music lyrics against artists in court and urge Congress to pass the RAP Act into law.” -- Artist Rights Alliance

“Musicians are storytellers, and lyrics are at the center of their creative expression. The growing practice of prosecutors presenting lyrics as literal confessions is deeply troubling, particularly given that it almost exclusively targets hip-hop artists. The issue of lyrics on trial is not just about the First Amendment and protecting free speech but is yet another double-standard that Black and Brown Americans must overcome in our justice system. This legislation both protects artistic expression of all types and keeps our communities safe by preserving a path for prosecutors to use legitimate self-incrimination in rare cases it occurs.” -- Kevin Liles, Chairman & CEO, 300 Elektra Entertainment

“The Restoring Artistic Protection Act is crucial to ensuring artistic expression is not criminalized,” said Laura Schroeder, the Senior Manager for Legislative Affairs at PEN America. “Using art, like music lyrics, as evidence in criminal proceedings is damaging to free expression and the First Amendment. At a time globally when artists are being punished or even jailed for their work by authoritarian governments, the United States should not follow suit. Further, the RAP Act seeks to address the policing disparities in using lyrics as evidence against artists which has disproportionally targeted rap music, a genre that has been historically pioneered and led by Black artists.”

“Creative expression is fundamental to great music and storytelling. Musical lyrics are entertainment – like poetry or a film script. We commend Rep. Johnson for his leadership on this legislation.” – Dr. Menna Demessie, Executive Director of the Task Force for Meaningful Change and Senior Vice President, Universal Music Group

“GRAMMYs on the Hill has been bringing music creators to Capitol Hill for more than 20 years to elevate policy issues that impact our community. Today, we’re proud to see our Academy members’ commitment to advocacy come to life with the re-introduction of the Restoring Artistic Protection Act. We must safeguard artists’ freedom to create at all costs and work to eradicate the biases that come with the unconstitutional practice of using lyrics as evidence. We are grateful to Congressmen Johnson and Bowman for their unwavering commitment to music people and look forward to working alongside them to advance this issue.” Harvey Mason jr., CEO, Recording Academy and Rico Love, Chair, Recording Academy Black Music Collective

“Court cases should be won on evidence not by leveraging racial bias or using creative speech against artists. SAG-AFTRA, a union representing over 160,000 recording artists, performers and broadcasters, firmly believes performers should never feel they must self-censor their artistic expression for fear of future prosecution. We support the Restoring Artist Protections “RAP” Act, and we thank Congressmen Johnson and Bowman for sponsoring this legislation to protect our members’ right to their freedom of speech.” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher

“Prohibiting the widespread prosecutorial tactic of using free speech and creative expressions against people as evidence of criminal conduct must be stopped. The Restoring Artistic Protection Act is our chance at correcting the system and preserving the right to free speech and creative expression for all Americans.  Thank you to Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) for their leadership on this issue.” – Dina LaPolt, Co-founder and Board Member, Songwriters of N. America (SONA)

“The Black Music Action Coalition supports and applauds Congressmen Hank Johnson and Jamal Bowman for this forward movement to right the systemic wrong of utilizing rap lyrics as the sole evidence of crimes through the proposed RAP Act. Hip-Hop as a form of art is being critically endangered by this plague taking over our criminal justice system. Rap is undeniably the heart of not just popular music but American culture and deserves the same First Amendment protection as all other creative expression.” – Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, Co-founder/Chair of the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC)

“The misuse of artistic expression in criminal trials can have profound chilling effects on creators, but the RAP Act provides safeguards for artists by preventing the unjust use of creative expression by prosecutors,” said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “All artists, including musicians, novelists, or filmmakers, should be free to express themselves without fear that their art will be misused in criminal prosecutions. The First Amendment demands no less.”