Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tennessee Just Opened the Floodgates of Indecency,
Criminalizing Images that "Cause Emotional Distress"

Normally, I don't take much pleasure in writing about any legal legislation that takes place in the world; but when it's about a government dealing with a frivolous matter, I light up like a Christmas tree. This is one of those times. :)

The government in the State of Tennessee has recently passed a new law that makes it a crime to "transmit or display an image" that is likely to "frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress." Without coming out and saying it, this law is aimed specifically at the Internet, banning all distressing images and displays. There is no clear definition on what they mean by that, which is open to interpretation, which is where the real fun comes in.

Oh, and by the way: punishment for violating this law can be up to a year in jail and/or up to $2,500 in fines.

via Tech Dirt:
The specific law outlaws posting a photo online that causes "emotional distress" to someone and has no "legitimate purpose." While the law does state that there needs to be "malicious intent," it also includes a massive loophole, in that it says that you can still be liable if the person "reasonably should know" that the actions would "frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress."
Hit the jump to see the loophole discussed further...

The loophole, in the excerpt above, is clearly laid out by Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy...
  1. If you’re posting a picture of someone in an embarrassing situation — not at all limited to, say, sexually themed pictures or illegally taken pictures — you’re likely a criminal unless the prosecutor, judge, or jury concludes that you had a “legitimate purpose.”
  2. Likewise, if you post an image intended to distress some religious, political, ethnic, racial, etc. group, you too can be sent to jail if governments decisionmaker thinks your purpose wasn’t “legitimate.” Nothing in the law requires that the picture be of the “victim,” only that it be distressing to the “victim.”
  3. The same is true even if you didn’t intend to distress those people, but reasonably should have known that the material — say, pictures of Mohammed, or blasphemous jokes about Jesus Christ, or harsh cartoon insults of some political group — would “cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities.”
  4. And of course the same would apply if a newspaper or TV station posts embarrassing pictures or blasphemous images on its site.
Any time you're legally claiming liability based on how someone "feels" about a certain subject matter, it's almost always going to end in disaster. The odds are clearly against you. Having said that, I await the repeal and removal of this law.

Personally, I think maybe they got goatse'd.


story via Gizmodo
info via Ars Technica

If you looked closely, you noticed that the woman up top above is not censored, but made out of LEGO pieces. Speaking of which...

1 comment:

Brandt Hardin said...

You can see my response to this new law as a Tennessee artist on my artist's blog at with my portrait of our Governor Bill Haslam and his ravishing wife.