First Amendment Victory: FCC Backs Down in Sarah Jones Case

In a case with important First Amendment implications, the Federal Communications Commission has reversed its earlier finding that performance artist Sarah Jones’ “Your Revolution” is indecent. The FCC had declared in May of 2001 that “Your Revolution,” a feminist critique of the frequently offensive treatment of women in popular music, was indecent. The new FCC order acknowledges that declaring “Your Revolution” indecent was a mistake. When the song’s lyrics are considered contextually, the FCC concluded that “Your Revolution” is not patently offensive.

“I am pleased that the FCC has admitted its error and removed the gag order against ‘Your Revolution,’” said Sarah Jones. “But I am still bothered that because the FCC has no timeline or process it has to follow, my work was effectively censored by the federal government for almost two years without me having any role in their deliberations. I’m free for now, but who’s next?”

The FCC’s February 20, 2003 ruling comes 21 months after the agency notified Portland, Oregon radio station KBOO that broadcasting “Your Revolution” had apparently violated the FCC’s indecency rule, and a little over one year after Sarah Jones sued the FCC with the assistance of the prominent New York-based media law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, P.C. and People For the American Way Foundation. The FCC’s earlier ruling and the $7,000 fine levied against noncommercial KBOO had resulted in other radio stations refusing to broadcast Jones’ piece. The lawsuit Jones filed in January 2002 asked the court to declare that “Your Revolution” was not indecent under the First Amendment and according to the FCC’s own guidelines.

“We are excited for Sarah Jones and for all the people who might now have a chance to hear ‘Your Revolution’ for the first time,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “This is an important victory for one artist, but it leaves in place a deeply flawed process that gives artists no way to challenge an FCC ‘indecency’ finding during the years the agency can take to reach a final conclusion. The process must be fixed.”

“We were proud to help Sarah Jones win this battle,” said Frankfurt Kurnit partner Ned Rosenthal, “but artists can’t take too much comfort -- the fact still remains that a single listener complaint to the FCC can keep an artist’s work off the air for years.”

Sarah Jones will be performing her Drama Desk award-nominee solo show Surface Transit (which includes “Your Revolution”) at The Berkeley Theater in Berkeley, California beginning April 18th for a five week run. For ticket info call 510-647-2949.

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