On January 1, 1999, a rock/rap artist called “BadBoy” (BB) released his first recording. Many of the selections on that CD contained graphic and violent lyrics, includingone song that glorified the activities of an urban gang, all of whose members have been convicted of killing three police officers in Detroit. The album received a lot of publicity and has become a nationwide best seller in its category. To promote sales, “Bad Boy” undertook a nationwide tour, in which he performed in twenty cities across the country.
BB is a twenty year old male who was born and raised in Philadelphia. Prior to signing a long-term recording contract with MCI Records, Inc. (MCI), on December 1, 1998, BB had never been outside of Pennsylvania. His concert tour took him to, among other locations, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and NewOrleans. BB performed a single concert in each city. In every instance, BB arrived the night before the scheduled concert and left the morning after that concert. MCI is incorporated under the laws of Delaware and has all of its corporate offices and recording studies in Los Angeles, California.
On November 1, 1999, two members of a gang in New Orleans were charged with murdering two police officers during an alleged drug bust. The spouses of both of the two officers brought one lawsuit in which they asserted a tort claim for damages against BB in the U.S. District Court forthe Eastern District of Louisiana (in New Orleans) alleging that the lyrics in BB’s songs were a proximate cause of the death of their spouses because those lyrics encouraged the gang members to use violence against police officers. Each spouse is a lifelong resident of New Orleans and is seeking $1 million against BB. In that same lawsuit, each spouse also asserted a $1 million tort claim against MCI, claimingthat by producing, recording and distributing the album,this defendant was also responsible for the death of thepolice officers. In their complaint, the plaintiffs note thatthe lyrics of each of BB’s songs was available on MCI’s webpage, as was the opportunity to purchase the album withthe use of a credit card. The complaint also states a tort claim against Bob’s Records, a local, independent New Orleans record shop that was the only store in town that sold the new BB album. In this cause of action, a tort claim for damages, the plaintiffs allege not only that the shop’s promotion of the album contributed to the environment that encouraged the gang members’ violent conduct, but that the free speech provision of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not apply to, and thereby does not immunize from liability, Bob’s decision to sell the offending album.