Punitive Damages

Posted on 11/13/2014 by John Poland CEO, Town Hall Foundation

The Town Hall Foundation has compared the damages done to our children from music lyrics as similar to the damages done to children and adults alike as a result of smoking. Smoking is and has been regulated by the FDA as a drug and therefore the tobacco industry must live within a narrow band of distribution protocols.

A recent lawsuit found that a cigarette company must pay $23.2B in punitive damages to a longtime smoker who died in 1996. That ruling also said smokers and their families need only prove addiction and that smoking caused their illnesses or deaths. The bar being set by the court is low and was handed down some 18 years after the lawsuit was initiated.

What does this mean to the music artists of today, the producers, the record labels and the RIAA? Even though they hide behind free speech as a disclaimer to write and sing damaging lyrics, the time for reckoning will come and with it, punitive damages.

Punitive damages will occur in the future as courts examine what the purveyors of the filth should have known. They can’t escape the liability of their actions just like the cigarette companies hoped they could escape theirs. The RIAA has established a PAL (Parental Advisory Label). This is a joke as artists must self discipline themselves and ask for the label to be applied. Wal-Mart for example uses this guideline to remove songs from their inventory. As the artist created the label he or she can rerecord the song in a Wal-Mart friendly version at the original recording session.

The Town Hall Foundation has reached out to the corporate offices of Wal-Mart and they assured us that they are OK with the RIAA PAL. We asked that they adopt the THF rating system with our Seal of Shame (SOS) replacing the PAL. That would give them an unbiased resource to uniformly rate songs. They declined to accept our offer.

So, who will the courts find guilty of punitive damages in the future: the artist, the producer, the record label, RIAA or the music distribution industry? They all knew what these music lyrics can do and they turned a blind eye as though they didn’t care. If that is the case, maybe they should worry and begin saving for the lawsuits that will come.

That’s the message for today, more coming.