“Insert Court Approved Title Here”: Rosa Parks v. LaFace Records

June 16, 2012

Ah ha, hush that fuss
Everybody move to the back of the bus
Do you wanna bump slump with us
We the type of people make the club get crunk
In September 1998, the Atlanta-based musical group OutKast released a song titled Rosa Parks which contained the above lyrics in the chorus. In Parks v. LaFace Records, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently found itself in the precarious position of deciphering those cryptic lyrics. To accomplish this task the court actually relied on a translation of the lyrics “derived from various electronic ‘dictionaries’ of the ‘rap’ vernacular.” The chorus was translated to mean: Be quiet and stop the commotion. OutKast is back out [with new music] so all other MCs [mic checkers, rappers, Master of Ceremonies] step aside. Do you want to ride and hang out with us? OutKast is the type of group to make the clubs get hyped-up/excited.
At stake in the case was Rosa Parks’ right to protect her celebrated name and OutKast’s right to use her name as the title to its song; but in a larger sense, the expressive rights of all artists were at stake. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution8 protects this artistic expression, and the judicial system should act to enforce this right of artistic freedom. However, the outcome of this case and other recent legislation show that the judicial system is not only failing to enforce this right, but is stifling artistic expression.