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Liability For Violence Incited By a Movie, Song, or Book

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Violence is a prevalent theme in the entertainment industry today, and we can easily find violence in movies, books, and music. Many have blamed the rising violent acts in our society to this widespread use of violence to entertain. As such, producers, artists, publishers, or authors may become liable for violence incited by their work.

What are Some Examples of Violence Incited by Movies, Books, or Music?

    1. A murderer uses a book that provides step-by-step guide to executing a murder and avoiding detection;
    2. A movie watcher imitates some violent act he sees in a movie;
    3. A person hires an assassin to kill someone after reading an ad in a magazine that solicits criminal activities; or
    4. A concert attendee commits some act of violence after being encouraged to do so from a song.   

How Can You Sue For Injuries Resulting From Violence Incited By a Movie, Book, or Song?

A person may be liable for violence incited by his/her work under two theories:

     1. Negligence; or
     2. Strict Liability.


To prove that a person was negligent in producing his/her work, one must show the following:

     1. There was a duty of care owed to the victim;
     2. The person breached that duty of care; and
     3. Injuries to the victim resulted from that breach.

However, it is usually very difficult to prove negligence in this type of a case because the courts have generally denied to impose a duty of care on producers, artists, publishers, and authors to the audience of their work.

Strict Liability

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

     1. There was a sale of a product;
     2. The product was defective;
     3. The victim suffered injures; and
     4. The injures 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.

What are Some Defenses to This Claim?

Besides negating the elements that the victim needs to prove, above, an accused wrongdoer may also assert the first amendment protection, freedom of speech.

Generally, movies, books, and songs that use excessive violence are still protected under the first amendment, unless they qualify as "fighting words" or  "words likely to incite imminent lawless action." Yet it is usually very difficult to prove that a movie, book, or song is unprotected speech under the first amendment because the victim usually must show that:

      1. The person intended (i.e. desired) to incite violence that caused harm to the victim; and
      2. The harm resulted was imminent (i.e. arising in a short period of time). 

Do You Need an Attorney if You Were Injured by a Defective Product?

If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product, you should speak to an attorney immediately to learn more about preserving your rights and remedies. Certain defective products may be part of a class action lawsuit.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 02-08-2012 02:39 PM PST

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