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Issues - Art Censorship

Harvard Law Review Censors Link to Nan Goldin Photograph
(June 26, 2014) - And in a forum celebrating free expression, no less.

Book Banning, Obscenity, and "Harm to Minors"
(June 3, 2014) - The Fair Observer interviews Marjorie Heins.

FCC Proposes Easing Up on Censorship of "Indecency"
(April 12, 2013) - After years of controversy and litigation, the agency seems poised to abandon its rule on "fleeting expletives" and return to square one.

The Great Indecency Case Ends With a Whimper
(June 27, 2012) -Why did the Supreme Court decide not to decide whether the FCC's shifting, unpredictable, vague, and often discriminatory censorship regime violates the First Amendment?

Shrinking the Public Domain: the Supreme Court Revisits Copyright Law
(October 24, 2011) - The October 5 oral argument in Golan v. Holder gave few clues to the outcome of the case, except that it will not be unanimous.

Back to the Past: the Government's Strategy in the "Fleeting Expletives" Case
(September 19, 2011) - The government's recently filed brief tries to dissuade the Supreme Court from considering the vagueness of the FCC's definition of "indecency" or the chilling effect of its censorship regime.

Requiem for California's Violent Video Games Law
(June 28, 2011) - Justice Scalia's majority opinion does not allow politicians to create new exceptions to the First Amendment, but four of his brethren beg to differ.

The Family Shakespeare
(April 23, 2011) - A new play re-imagines the notorious Bowdler family and debates the eternal question of literary censorship.

Justices Are Skeptical of a Law Criminalizing Pictures of Cruelty to Animals
(October 7, 2009) - What about cockfights? Bullfights? Hunting? Stuffing geese to make foie gras? The examples are not far-fetched in the case of U.S. v. Stevens.

Fleeting Expletives Redux: Court of Appeals Sets New Briefing Schedule
(August 4, 2009) -The Court of Appeals has set a new briefing schedule in the case challenging the FCC's rule against "fleeting expletives." Will this finally lead to the end of government censorship of the airwaves?

Will the Supreme Court Create a New Exception to the First Amendment?
(May 6, 2009) - The case the Court has agreed to review concerns an odd law criminalizing "depictions of animal cruelty," but it has big implications for free speech.

Supreme Court Blushes at Those S-words and F-words
(November 4, 2008) - The oral argument on election day in Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television was not a model of First Amendment eloquence.

Blanche DuBois Meets the Copyright Cops
(September 22, 2008) - Can the holder of the copyright in “A Streetcar Named Desire” stop a creative artist from impersonating Blanche DuBois, the fragile, self-deluding southern belle in Tennessee Williams’s classic play?

Supreme Court Brief in FCC v. Fox, the "Fleeting Expletives" Case
(August 8, 2008) - FEPP joined with the ACLU, the Directors Guild of America, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and nine other organizations in urging the Court not only to affirm last year's court of appeals decision striking down the Federal Communication Commission's ban on "fleeting expletives" in radio and TV broadcasting, but clarifying that the laws governing the FCC can no longer be interpreted to allow the agency its freewheeling censorship of constitutionally protected speech on the airwaves.

FEPP's Slide Show of Controversial and Censored Art
(May 2008) - From the erotic frescos of Pompeii to today's battles over fair use - an entertaining and informative history of censored images.

The Harry Potter Lexicon Goes to Court
(March 8, 2008) - J.K. Rowling claims copyright infringement while the Lexicon publisher argues fair use. A federal judge will soon decide.

The Rest is Noise
(December 22, 2007) -Alex Ross's much-admired new book raises tantalizing questions about music, politics, and censorship.

Federal Judges Have Hard Questions for FCC Censors
(Dec. 20, 2006) - At oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals, the FCC's lawyer struggled to defend the agency's rules banning "profanity" and "fleeting expletives" on the airwaves.

Filmmakers, Writers, Free Speech Groups Urge Court to End FCC Censorship
(November 30, 2006) - 20 organizations, led by the Brennan Center, have filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the FCC's rules banning "profanity" and "fleeting expletives" on the airwaves are unconstitutional.

FCC Faces Judicial Challenges to Its Indecency Regime
(Sept. 29, 2006) - Two federal courts are poised to decide whether "fleeting expletives" or "wardrobe malfunctions" can be banned from radio and television.

Movie Censors Are Also Copyright Infringers
(July 11, 2006) - A federal court has ruled against the fair use arguments of CleanFlicks and fellow sanitizers.

The Joyce Saga: Literary Heirs & Copyright Abuse
(June 15, 2006) - A new lawsuit challenges Stephen Joyce's efforts to control what is said about the Joyce family and the literary works of his famous grandfather.

Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report
(May 2006) - Internet filters categorize expression without regard to its context, meaning, and value. Yet these sweeping censorship tools are now widely used in schools and libraries. This fully revised and updated report surveys nearly 100 tests and studies of filtering products through 2006. An essential resource for the ongoing debate.

America's Culture Czars
(March 21, 2006) - The FCC's latest "indecency" rulings are so radical as to beg for court review.

Of Threats, Intimidation, Sensitivity, and Free Speech: The Muhammad Cartoons
(February 22, 2006) - Some basic facts and principles about blasphemy, defamation, incitement, and media self-censorship to help guide the debate.

Will Fair Use Survive? Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control
(December 2005) - The product of more than a year of research - including many firsthand stories from artists, scholars, bloggers, and others - Will Fair Use Survive? paints a striking picture of an intellectual property system that is perilously out of balance.

Censorship at Ground Zero
(August 30, 2005) - Why are Governor Pataki and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. threatening the very freedoms that the terrorists were trying to destroy?

A Tone-Deaf Approach to Music Sampling
(June 3, 2005) - The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has again ruled that the "de minimis" rule doesn't apply to sound recordings.

Sanitizing Movies
(April 19, 2005) - The "Family Movie Act" (which was passed into law shortly after this testimony was given) singles out filmmakers for lesser copyright protection in order to encourage the movie-censoring industry.

Trashing the Copyright Balance
(September 21, 2004) - A new court decision outlaws rap music's unauthorized sampling of even one chord from another sound recording.

Structural Free Expression Issues
(September 10, 2004) - How the copyright system, media regulation, and government funding affect free speech.

Congress Weighs In On Movie Filters
(May 21, 2004) - Threats to change copyright law if directors and studios don't allow censorware to blur, cut, and bleep.

Fact Sheet on Sex and Censorship
(March 2004) - Where did the exception to the First Amendment for "obscenity" originate? What other ways have government officials found to control erotic speech? And why do some of them continue to do so, in the face of ever more sexual explicitness all around us? FEPP's fact sheet summarizes the history and current status of restrictions on sexual expression in America.

Free Expression in Arts Funding: A Public Policy Report
(2003) - A survey of free-expression policies among state and local arts agencies, including ways of anticipating and dealing with attacks on controversial art. Includes background on the arts funding wars of the 1990s, and candid interviews with agency officials.

Not In Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and The Innocence Of Youth
(2001, 2nd edition, 2007) - From Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter, Internet filters to the v-chip, censorship is often based on the assumption that children and adolescents must be protected from "indecent" speech. In Not In Front of the Children, FEPP Director Marjorie Heins explores the history of indecency laws and other censorship aimed at youth. Not in Front of the Children won the 2002 American Library Association's Eli M. Oboler Award for the best published work in the area of intellectual freedom.

For Additional Materials on Art Censorship in 2001-03, go to the Archives Page.


The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as a project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

All material on this site is covered by a Creative Commons "Attribution - No Derivs - NonCommercial" license. (See You may copy it in its entirely as long as you credit the Free Expression Policy Project and provide a link to the Project's Web site. You may not edit or revise it, or copy portions, without permission (except, of course, for fair use). Please let us know if you reprint!