Free speech and expression is a notion that has always raised debate. Historically many authors have given their position on the issue. Voltaire's famous sentence: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" later attributed to his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, presents a clear idea of the problems raised - I disagree with you but you have the liberty to say it…
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For the purpose of our essay we will mainly discuss two famous cases: Ozzy Osbourne's song "Suicide Solution"1 and Ice-T's "Cop Killer"2. We will focus on the aspects of the songs that caused such an outrage and we will try to replace the song in the cultural context to explain and understand their link with the freedom of speech and expression issue.
In 1981 was released Ozzy Osbourne's first solo album "Blizzard of Ozz". This album included a song called Suicide Solution. The song was originally aimed to talk about alcohol as a deadly substance. The song was written by Osbourne after his friend Bon Scott, lead-singer of AC/DC, had died as a result of alcohol abuse. The word Solution should be understood as mixture and not as answer as we will see later.
On October 26, 1984, during the night, John McCollum shot himself in the head with a .22 caliber handgun. He was 19 years old. It was reported that when he entered the room, the coroner found headphones on John's head. He had been listening for most of the evening to Ozzy Osbourne's albums "Diary of a madman" and "Blizzard of Ozz" in the living room. He then went in his bedroom, listened to Osbourne's album "Speak of the devil" and shot himself".
The fo The following year, in October John's parents filed suit against Ozzy Osbourne and his record company CBS on charges of negligence, products liability and intentional misconduct, claiming that Osbourne's song had incited their son to commit suicide. The case was first dismissed on August 7, 1986, by The Superior Court of Los Angeles County. The McCollums appealed arguing that Osbourne's songs were containing themes such as satanic worshiping and death. They precisely targeted the song Suicide Solution because of his lyrics "suicide is the only out" and of supposedly masked lyrics not printed in the album as "why try, why try, get the gun and try it, shoot, shoot, shoot"
The music was constitutionally protected as decided by the Court of Appeals which ruled that Osbourne's music could not be seen as a cause of the suicide. The first step of this decision was to declare that the music was protected by the First Amendment but then consider that freedom of speech is not absolute. An investigation was conducted by the court to explore the possibilities of Osbourne's music encouraging John McCollum's suicide. In regards of the Brandenburg test, the Court decided that Osbourne's music could not be accountable for the decision taken by McCollum.
It is interesting to recall the declaration of the Court of Appeals: "freedom of speech is not absolute". When one shall consider that freedom of speech and expression must be considered as the possibility to declare anyone of his feelings, we will have to precise this interpretation. Alexis de Tocqueville, the philosopher, in "Democracy in America"3 explained that when a person expresses an opinion which may seem unpopular, he may be subjected to the rejection of his community. He qualifies freedom of speech as a civil liberty rather then a fundamental liberty. In Osbourne's case, we are directly confronted to that type of differentiation. He and his song are rejected because they do not fit with the common thoughts of what music -
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