We’ve heard the argument before – that violent movies, songs, or books can cause people to act violently – but what, if any, liability do these violent outlets face?

What Type of Violence is Incited by Movie, Song or Book?

Violent depictions can arguably incite violence in a number of ways. Below are some examples of how violent books, movies, and songs can impact its audience:

  • A book that provides a step-by-step guide to executing a murder in order to avoid detection can encourage someone to commit the crime;
  • A violent movie depicting murder/assassination can be emulated by the moviegoer; and/or
  • A person hears violent lyrics in a song and does the very act that is described in the song.

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Can a Person Injured by the Act of Violence Sue the Creator of the Work?

Yes, although whether you will prevail depends largely on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. The mere fact that someone creates a violent movie, song or book that depicts violence or encourages it does not itself lend to liability.

The First Amendment provides Freedom of Speech protection for all works of art. Generally, movies, books and songs that use excessive violence are still protected, even if they do have the result of depicting or encouraging violent behavior. Notwithstanding, “fighting words,” or words that are likely to incite lawless action, are not protected Free Speech.

A person who is injured as a result of someone else’s work can sue claiming negligence or strict liability. If a victim is killed during an act of violence, the victim’s family members can sue for wrongful death.

How Can I Sue for Negligence?

Under a negligence theory, the injured party must demonstrate that the person who created the work which caused violence:

  • Owed the victim a duty of care;
  • Breached that duty of care; and
  • Injuries resulted as a result of the breach of duty.

Because of the Free Speech protections, it is difficult to prevail on a claim of negligence as most courts have denied to impose a duty of care on producers, artists, publishers, and authors to the audience of their work.

How Can I Sue for Strict Liability?

To prove a person is liable for violence incited by his/her work under strict liability, one must prove the following:

  • There was a sale of a product;
  • The product was defective;
  • The victim suffered injuries; and
  • The injuries were caused by the defective product.

Most of the time, a movie, book, or song is deemed defective because there is no adequate warning about its potential to incite violence.

Similar to the negligence theory, it is not easy for a victim to recover under the strict liability theory because the courts have been hesitant to treat movies, books, and music as “products” for the purposes of this type of a claim.

How Can I Sue for Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death lawsuits have three elements which must be proven in order to succeed:

  • The creator of the work owed a duty of care to its victim(s);
  • There was a breach of the duty of care; and
  • The breach was the sole cause of the death of the victim.

As with a negligence cause of action, it is difficult to prove that the author of a book or creator of movie or song owes its victim a duty of care. Moreover, courts generally do not find that, assuming there was a duty owed, the breach of duty was the sole cause of death to victims. Often the perpetrator already has violent tendencies.

Should I Seek Legal Counsel?

If you or someone you know has been injured or killed by violent acts that were incited by movies, books, or songs, you should speak to a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. The attorney can help you assess your case and represent you in court.