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Violence

Except for highly specific incitements to violent action, violent imagery is protected under the First Amendment.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution generally prevents the government from restricting the creation or viewing of art on the Internet that contains violent material.  Violent imagery has been a part of great works of art and literature for thousands of years and U.S. courts recognize this, deciding in a range of cases that laws that try to restrict violence in art and the media are unconstitutional.

But in recent years there has been much debate about violence and its possible effects on children, mainly in the context of video games. Some groups and government officials have called for limiting children’s access to violence in video games, on television, and on the Internet.  Although parents can easily control what media and Internet content their children have access to by using filtering software, voluntary ratings systems, and devices such as digital video recorders, some people still think “there ought to be a law” that controls when and where violent content can be displayed.

This area of law is likely to be the focus of continued debate, so if you have images of violence in your art, be aware that the laws might change and that it’s important to stay aware of new developments in Congress, state legislatures, and the courts.  Also, regardless of whether your art depicts violent images or sounds, if it directly encourages others to be violent, you could find yourself in legal trouble.  See our discussion of fighting words and incitement to violence for more.

The Basics

A brief introduction to violence and the First Amendment.

What You Need to Know

The key points to consider when posting your art online.

Laws, Cases, and Other Resources

A more in-depth discussion of the laws and cases that have shaped today’s legal environment for violent material.




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