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


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.

Jack Taylor, Getty Images
8 Arresting Facts About Scotland Yard
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Depicted in fiction for well over a century as the world's premier police force, Scotland Yard might be the most famous banner for law enforcement in history. Though the name itself is officially a term for the location of the London Metropolitan Police headquarters, it’s taken on a colloquial use to describe the collective brain trust of that station’s patrolmen and detectives. Here’s what we’ve deduced about the past, present, and future of this historic—and sometimes controversial—institution.


London didn’t have a formal police force until 1829, when Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel arranged for a squad to replace the fractured system of watchmen, street patrols, and the River Police. Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne were tasked with organizing the force: Mayne’s house at 4 Whitehall Place opened to an adjacent courtyard that had once been a medieval palace that hosted Scottish royalty while they were in London. This “Great Scotland Yard,” which was also reportedly the name of the street behind the building, became synonymous with Rowan and Mayne’s efforts to create a new era in law enforcement.


Author Charles Dickens poses for a photo
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The renowned author of Great Expectations and other literary classics wasn’t a policeman, but he did perform the 19th-century equivalent of a ride-along. Dickens was friends with Charles Frederick Field, a Scotland Yard inspector, and their relationship led to Dickens occasionally accompanying patrolmen on their nightly rounds. He even based a character in his novel Bleak House on Fields.


For all of the public acceptance of Scotland Yard—Londoners were initially wary of the plainclothes cops walking among them—the squad suffered a sensational blow to its image in 1877. Known as the “Turf Fraud Scandal” or the “Trial of the Detectives,” the controversy erupted after a Parisian socialite named Madame de Goncourt was conned by two men named Harry Benson and William Kurr. Scotland Yard inspector Nathaniel Druscovich was dispatched to Amsterdam to capture a fleeing Benson while others pursued Kurr. The men proved surprisingly elusive, which prompted suspicion among Scotland Yard officials. When the two con men were finally arrested, they explained that an inspector named John Meiklejohn was taking bribes in exchange for tipping off Kurr to police activity. Two other policemen were implicated; the three each received two years in prison. The high-profile breach led to a reorganization, with the Yard inserting detectives into a new Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to help minimize misconduct.


A Scotland Yard employee examines fingerprints
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

At one time, the science of fingerprinting was more of a theory than anything that could be put into practice. Most police forces instead relied on anthropometry, a system created by French police officer Alphonse Bertillon, which used 11 body measurements taken by calipers to provide a unique physical identity for an individual. While fingerprinting was beginning to take off in India in the late 1800s, the English-speaking world didn’t adopt the forensic technique of lifting and matching prints until 1901, when Sir Edward Henry, then the assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, instituted the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau. In 1902, a billiard ball thief was convicted based on a fingerprint he left on a windowsill. In 1904, a Yard detective demonstrated the efficacy of fingerprinting at the St. Louis World’s Fair, helping spread the new science to American law enforcement officials.


The uniformed police officers who wander London’s streets with an eye on keeping the peace were unarmed for most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1994 that select patrol officers were permitted to carry guns, a policy shift that stemmed from increased assaults on police. The addition of firearms was limited to armed response cars intended to be dispatched to high-risk calls; previously, officers were instructed to keep their weapons in a lockbox inside their vehicles. Today, 90 percent of Metropolitan police officers go on duty without a gun, a policy largely maintained in response to a relatively low number of guns carried by civilians. Less than four in 100 British citizens own a firearm.


A surveillance camera is posted in London
Leon Neal, AFP/Getty Images

With surveillance cameras dotting London, facial recognition for identifying criminal suspects is in high demand. But no software can outperform Scotland Yard’s team of “super recognizers,” who are recruited for their ability to match a face to a name based on their own memory. These officers are hired by administering a facial recognition test first implemented by Harvard in 2009. Those in the top percentile have an uncanny ability to retain facial feature details and are often dispatched to cull out known criminals like pickpockets at public gatherings. One such specialist, Constable Gary Collins, identified 180 people out of 4000 while examining footage of the 2011 London riots. Software was able to identify exactly one.


Housed across two floors at the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in London is the Black Museum, a macabre cavalcade of evidence from nearly 150 years of investigative work. Established in 1875, the collection houses body parts (gallstones that failed to dissolve in acid along with the rest of a murder victim) and seemingly innocuous items that take on sinister connotations: A set of pots and pans that once belonged to Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen and were used to boil human flesh. It’s closed to the public, though visiting law enforcement and sometimes celebrities can secure an invite: Laurel and Hardy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have toured its inventory. A sample of the collection went on display at the Museum of London in 2015.  


The former New Scotland Yard building at 10 Broadway
Jack Taylor, AFP/Getty Images

The Metropolitan Police have changed locations several times over the years. It was situated at its original location of 4 Whitehall Place from 1829 to 1890, then housed in a large Victorian building on the Victoria Embankment from 1890 until 1967. That’s when the operation was moved to a 600,000 square-foot building at 10 Broadway in Westminster: a famous revolving sign announced a New Scotland Yard was taking up residence. In 2014, the building was sold to investors from Abu Dhabi for $580 million: London cited operating expenses and budget cuts as the reasons for the sale. The buyers plan to mount a residential housing project in the spot. Scotland Yard staff moved to a trimmed-down facility at the Curtis Green Building in Westminster and within walking distance of the Houses of Parliament.   

Why Are Mugshots Made Public Before a Suspect is Convicted by the Court?

Jennifer Ellis:

Several reasons.

1. Mugshots can help find people when they have absconded, or warn people when someone is out and dangerous. So there is a good reason to share some mugshots.

2. Our legal system requires openness as per the federal constitution, and I imagine most if not all state constitutions. As such, this sort of information is not considered private and can be shared. Any effort to keep mugshots private would result in lawsuits by the press and lay people. This would be under the First and Sixth Amendments as well as the various Freedom of Information Acts. However, in 2016 a federal court ruled [PDF] that federal mugshots are no longer routinely available under the federal FOIA.

This is partially in recognition of the damage that mugshots can do online. In its opinion, the court noted that “[a] disclosed booking photo casts a long, damaging shadow over the depicted individual.” The court specifically mentions websites that put mugshots online, in its analysis. “In fact, mugshot websites collect and display booking photos from decades-old arrests: BustedMugshots and JustMugshots, to name a couple.” Some states have passed or are looking to pass laws to prevent release of mugshots prior to conviction. New Jersey is one example.

a) As the federal court recognizes, and as we all know, the reality is that if your picture in a mugshot is out there, regardless of whether you were convicted, it can have an unfortunate impact on your life. In the old days, this wasn’t too much of a problem because it really wasn’t easy to find mugshots. Now, with companies allegedly seeking to extort people into paying to get their images off the web, it has become a serious problem. Those companies may get in trouble if it can be proved that they are working in concert, getting paid to take the picture off one site and then putting it on another. But that is rare. In most cases, the picture is just public data to which there is no right of privacy under the law.

b) The underlying purpose of publicity is to avoid the government charging people and abusing the authority to do so. It was believed that the publicity would help protect people. And it does when you have a country that likes to hide what it is up to. But, it also can cause harm in a modern society like ours, where such things end up on the web and can cause permanent damage. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a catch-22. We have the right to know issues and free speech rights smack up against privacy rights and serious damage of reputation for people who have not been convicted of a crime. The law will no doubt continue to shake out over the next few years as it struggles to catch up with the technology.

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