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The Time the Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of 2 Live Crew

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At the peak of 2 Live Crew's popularity, their music was about as well known in the courts as it was on the radio. The Miami rap group was famous for their bawdy and sexually explicit music that occasionally led to arrests and fines under some states' obscenity laws. In 1987, a record store clerk in Florida was charged with a felony (and later acquitted) for selling the group's debut album to a 14-year-old girl. The next year, a store in Alabama was fined for selling their record to an undercover cop.

Because of the group's notorious reputation, a few counties in Florida even tried to outright ban their 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be. In 1990, the Broward County Sheriff's Office arrested two of the band's members for a nightclub performance because a Federal district judge there had ruled their music to be obscene. In 1992, a circuit appeals court overturned that judge's ruling, and the Broward County court's efforts to lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court failed. However, 2 Live Crew would soon be in front of the Highest Court in the Land for another issue.

In 1989, 2 Live Crew made a non-explicit version of their hit album, cheekily titled As Clean As They Wanna Be. There was only one song on that record that was not included on the explicit version: a parody of Roy Orbison's “Oh, Pretty Woman.” The unmistakable bassline of the classic remains, but the group used lyrics that were far more ribald.

2 Live Crew reached out to the publishing company that owned the original song, Acuff-Rose Music, asking for permission and promising royalties and songwriting credits. Acuff’s legal department retorted that, while they were “aware of the success enjoyed by ‘The 2 Live Crews’ [sic],” they “cannot permit the use of a parody of ‘Oh, Pretty Woman.’” (Orbison died a year before Acuff-Rose received the request.)

The band put the parody on the low-selling “clean” version of As Nasty As They Wanna Be anyway. The next year, Acuff-Rose sued.

2 Live Crew’s attorneys argued “fair use,” the legal standard allowing for some reproduction of a copyrighted work for things like criticism, parody, or teaching. A Federal appeals court disagreed, ruling that the “blatantly commercial” nature of the record precluded fair use.

After some litigious effort, the case landed before the Supreme Court. There, the question at hand was whether or not a parodist is entitled to fair use protections if they sell their work for a profit. As The New York Times reported, the Court received amicus curiae briefs from Mad Magazine and the Harvard Lampoon arguing that satirical work should be. True to form, The Capitol Steps, a group who performs political song parodies, submitted a brief in song—they sent the Justices a cassette featuring a tune outlining the history of musical parody in the U.S. Acuff-Rose, meanwhile, was backed by briefs from the Songwriters’ Guild and Michael Jackson.

Despite the fact that the Crew had grabbed headlines for their raunchy music, this case was purely based on copyright and not obscenity. Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (the Campbell in question refers to Luther Campbell, the group's leader and main producer) was argued on November 9, 1993, and decided on March 7, 1994. The Court voted unanimously in 2 Live Crew's favor to overturn the lower court’s ruling.

Writing for all nine justices, David Souter stated “that a work's commercial nature is only one element” by which to judge fair use. Souter noted the court “might not assign a high rank” to the 2 Live Crew song, but it is a legitimate parody that “can be taken as a comment on the naiveté of the original of an earlier day, as a rejection of its sentiment that ignores the ugliness of street life and the debasement that it signifies.”

In order to illustrate this, Souter included the lyrics to both songs, ensuring that the words “Big hairy woman all that hair it ain't legit; Cause you look like Cousin It" landed on the shelves of every law school library in the country.

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alcohol
Sam Adams's New $200 Beer Might Be Illegal in Your State
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Sam Adams

If you don’t have a high tolerance, Sam Adams’s latest beer could be more of a conversation piece than anything you want to imbibe. That is, if you can even get ahold of the $200 brew at all. The 2017 release of Utopias, the beer maker's biennial barrel-aged specialty, has a staggering 28 percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV) content—making it illegal in some places in the U.S.

According to Thrillist, Utopias’s unusually high ABV makes it unwelcome in 12 states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, both North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington. While a typical beer is between 4 and 7 percent ABV, your average distilled spirit can be 40 percent ABV (also known as 80 proof) or more. So what's the big deal with a 28 percent ABV drink? It turns out, those states have laws limiting the strength of beer, many of them holdovers from the end of Prohibition. Sorry, Alabama beer obsessives.

Assuming you’re legally able to buy a bottle of Utopias, what can you expect? Sam Adams says it has flavors reminiscent of "dark fruit, subtle sweetness, and a deep rich malty smoothness," but the beer won’t be bubbly, according to Fortune, since at that level, the alcohol devours any CO2. You should think of it more as a fine liquor or cognac than a craft beer. And you should pour it accordingly, Sam Adams recommends, in 1-ounce servings.

The 2017 Utopias run will be limited to 13,000 bottles. The brew goes on sale for $200 in early December.

[h/t Thrillist]

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politics
New York City Will Now Allow You to Dance Without a License
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In New York City, there’s a tricky law on the books that requires any business serving food or drinks to acquire what’s known as a Cabaret License in order to allow customers to dance. The mandate stems from a 1926 policy introduced by then-mayor Jimmy Walker to help curb what some residents believed to be “altogether too much running wild” in the Jazz Age clubs of the era. (It's also possible that the law was meant to prevent interracial coupling.) City officials have regularly enforced the law during the proceeding century, with some clubs even cutting off music—or switching to country—when inspectors arrived unannounced.

Now, it appears the outdated restriction has come to an end. According to The New York Times, Brooklyn councilman Rafael Espinal has introduced a bill expected to pass Tuesday that will forever end any and all comparisons to the 1984 Kevin Bacon film Footloose. The repeal comes on the heels of concerns that the prohibition pushes people into attending "underground" dance clubs that exceed (or ignore) fire department capacity limits.

While Espinal is convinced he has the necessary votes to move forward, several proprietors have attempted to challenge the law over the years. In 2014, bar owner and attorney Andrew Muchmore filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming that the restriction was outdated and obtaining the license was a laborious process. To approve an application, the city’s Department of Consumer affairs has to verify a venue has security cameras and owners have to attend regular board conferences. The cost of the license can range from $300 to $1000, depending on the area’s capacity and, for some unfathomable reason, whether it’s an even or odd year.

Espinal's efforts and anticipated success getting rid of the Cabaret Law will cap 91 years of illicit dancing within the city limits. Just don't get too cozy with your partner: thanks to another antiquated regulation, you can still be fined $25 for flirting.

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