New York Lawmakers Target Online Violence

Stephen Yagielowicz
NEW YORK — New York lawmakers are now targeting what they erroneously refer to as online "violence porn" — which is material that graphically depicts criminal assaults, such as the popular high-school "cat fight" videos seen on YouTube.

The sensationalized misuse of the word "porn" in this context is an obvious attention-getting scam designed to polarize public opinion on material that typically lacks any sexual component whatsoever.

Lawmakers believe that the sharing of these videotaped crimes assaults victims a second time and promotes this reprehensible cultural phenomenon.

"They make me sick," said Sen. John Flanagan. "We should never, ever, ever glorify this type of behavior."

The bill would make "unlawful violent recording" — or encouraging others to engage in these crimes — a felony; with penalties of up to four years in prison.

Noted free speech attorney Lawrence Walters believes that despite the New York initiative and several similar efforts nationwide, such a law would face an uphill battle when subjected to court review.

"Any time that you attempt to criminalize media based on its content, that is antithetical to the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech," Walters said. "The only media that the courts have agreed to criminalize, or authorize to be prohibited, are obscenity and child pornography. Everything else is presumed to be protected by the Constitution."

Although Sen. Joseph Robach acknowledged that showing a video might be a free speech right, the abuse being depicted is a crime that is not covered under the First Amendment.

"What created it — being violent — is not the First Amendment right," Robach said.

Civil remedies for these grievances already exist, however.

"We've dealt with some of the fallout from the bum fights-type media, where later on somebody who was involved in the filming comes back and says somebody was paid to assault me," Walters said. "That would be a civil claim for damages. That's permitted in our society if somebody feels they were taken advantage of."