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Legal bill preventing use of rap lyrics in court comes into effect in California

A legal bill preventing the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court has come into effect in California.

The California state legislature’s Assembly Bill 2799 – also known as the Decriminalising Artistic Expression Act – was signed into law on Friday, 30th September by California governor Gavin Newsom. Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Ty Dolla $ign, E-40 and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. were among the figures present for the virtual signing ceremony.

The bill, which was drawn up by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer and first approved in August, aims to reduce racial biases in California’s criminal justice system. It will prevent the use of song lyrics as evidence and ban them from being referenced in court unless the prosecution can prove a direct relevance between a song’s lyrics and a particular case.

“For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process,” said Songwriters of North America’s Dina LaPolt in a statement about the bill. “This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalising Black and Brown artistic expression.”

The statement added that the organisation hopes “Congress will pass similar legislation, as this is a nationwide problem”.

In his own statement, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said: “Today we celebrate an important victory for music creators in the state of California. Silencing any genre or form of artistic expression is a violation against all music people.

“The history that’s been made in California today will help pave the way forward in the fight to protect creative freedom nationwide. We extend our gratitude to Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer for his leadership on this issue and to Governor Newsom for recognising the importance of protecting artistry and signing the Decriminalising Artistic Expression Act into law.”

The passing of the bill follows a number of controversial cases in the US in which rappers’ song lyrics have been used to present a case of criminality against them. One such case saw Young Thug, Gunna and several of their associates given jail sentences in Georgia.

They were convicted of conspiracy to violate the state of Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) Act. The prosecuting district attorney in the case has continually insisted that their references to drugs, weapons and violence in their music are evidence of gang involvement and activity.

The passing of the new law in California follows on from the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service committing to a review of the use of drill lyrics in court cases at the start of 2022.

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