Defending Your Right to Speak Freely

October 2001
by Lloyd J. Jassin

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Lloyd JassinLloyd J. Jassin (photo right) is a publishing attorney and coauthor of “The Copyright Permission & Libel Handbook” (John Wiley & Sons). He can be contacted at 212/354-4442 or via e-mail at Jassin@copylaw.com. For more information, visit www.copylaw.com.


While PMA has a long tradition of providing publishers with the tools they need to compete in the marketplace, it also has a tradition as a strong champion of the First Amendment. As a pro bono counsel to PMA, I serve as a Vice President of the Media Coalition (http://mediacoalition.org/) representing you at monthly Coalition meetings in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Working in concert with the other members of the Coalition, including the American Booksellers Association, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America, PMA has filed legal challenges to unconstitutional laws and prepared amicus curiae briefs in cases involving First Amendment rights of publishers, producers, and distributors of constitutionally protected works. By standing together with our fellow Coalition members, we have defended the American public’s right to have access to the broadest possible range of viewpoints.

The Coalition–which consists of publishers and librarians, as well as recording, motion-picture, and video-game producers–also fights censorship legislation at the federal, state, and local levels by communicating with government officials on proposed legislation affecting constitutionally protected material.

Whether challenging the Child On-Line Protection Act (“COPA”), or coming to the aid of the Tattered Cover Bookstore by filing an amicus brief urging an appeals court to reverse a trial court’s order compelling it to turn over customer records to local authorities, PMA has been at the forefront of the fight for free speech both in cyberspace and at your local bookstore.

Some may ask, “What does PMA have in common with recording, motion-picture, and video-game producers?” The answer is simple. Today, what happens with music, video games, or motion pictures extends to all forms of expression–including book publishing. By standing together, PMA and the other Media Coalition members have been able to change the rules and make it possible to publish things–in book form and on the Internet–that might otherwise have gone unpublished.

As a champion of our great national tradition of free speech, PMA believes that the best test for truth is the power of an idea to get itself accepted in the competition of the marketplace. To remain a healthy society, we must remain vigilant against attempts to check expression of opinions that we disagree with. For example, in December 1998, a district court judge ruled that the Academy Award-winning film The Tin Drum is First Amendment-protected speech, not child pornography as claimed by the Oklahoma District Attorney.

Countering Censorship Challenges

As in the late 1950s and early ’60s, official censorship is rampant today. Without legal challenges filed by the Media Coalition, legal gains made in the ’60s by publishers such as Barney Rossett–who published “obscene” books such as Naked Lunch,Tropic of Cancer, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover that many, at the time, thought had little literary merit–surely would have been eroded.

PMA — through its membership in the Media Coalition — has worked diligently on behalf of its publisher members to ensure that today’s crop of Vladimir Nabokovs and Henry Millers publish in a climate free of censorship. I am very proud to represent a trade association that defends the First Amendment rights of its members–many of whom write and publish on controversial subjects that more mainstream publishers have avoided.

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