DALLAS, February 21, 2013 – Georgia state legislators renewed efforts to criminalize lewd image alterations last week when one such photo surfaced online of Representative Earnest Smith. The image featured Smith’s head digitally imposed on a nude man’s body.
The legislation is co-sponsored by Democrat Pam Dickerson, also a victim of offensive satire. The proposal was initially introduced last session in response to a teenage girl falling victim to obscene photo-shopping. The legislation died without advancing, but once both Smith and Dickerson were targeted by online pranksters, they re-filed the bill.
If passed, the state could fine creators of offensive images $1,000 and/or impose a 12-month jail sentence for “defamation when he or she causes an unknowing person wrongfully to be identified as the person in an obscene depiction.”
When questioned, Smith said he was not worried the bill would step on First Amendment rights.
“Everyone has a right to privacy. You have a right to speak, but no one has a right to disparage another person. It’s not a First Amendment right,” he told local news site Savannah Now. “It’s clear that we need to do something. It can be done to anyone at any time.”
Once pressed to provide further details, Smith told Fox News, “At this juncture, I am not at liberty to share anything with you. I don’t have to. If and when this bill passes we can revisit the issue and if I choose to give you details at that time I will, but until then I don’t have to tell you anything.”
Not everyone shares Smith’s sentiments. His unconventional grasp of the First Amendment amused online posters, many of which created dozens of images featuring the representative’s face, some more offensive than the original depiction.
PopeHat.com hosted an image manipulation contest with the following criteria:
“Contrary to his oath of office, Smith is wantonly promoting abject ignorance of the most fundamental law of our nation. So: let’s photoshop him. No nudes or obscene pics please. A suitable prize will be awarded to creator of the photoshop that best captures the stupid violence Rep. Smith has inflicted upon the truth about free speech.”
Blogger Andre Walker claimed responsibility for the original prank and publicly responded to Smith’s legislative move. “I would simply remind Representative Smith that he’s a public figure, and just like someone had the protected right to depict former President George W. Bush as a monkey, I have the protected right to Photoshop the head of any elected official onto the body of anything I chose.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects all forms of speech, not just spoken word. That’s why House Bill 39 is so asinine. It attempts to regulate speech and I doubt it would stand up in a court of law. Rep. Smith needs to grow some thick skin if he’s going to be an elected official. Trust me when I say the altered photograph shown above was not the worst I could have done.”
Internet bloggers and First Amendment advocates agreed with Andre Walker. “What Smith is seeking to do is criminalize speech that does nothing more than criticize those in power. While, at least in theory, it may apply to all, the motivations behind this proposal is to silence the new media that often relies on satire and bombastic language to attract readers,” wrote Tom Knighton of the Libertarian Party of Georgia.
Though the Internet predictably mocked Smith’s peculiar interpretation of the First Amendment, his hometown chastised his move against satire too. “It’s hard to believe, even in a state that gave rise to U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson — who once worried the island of Guam might tip over — that an American citizen would be so ignorant of our rights. It’s mind-boggling to think that people who help write our laws are that out to lunch.
Americans have a fundamental right to mock others. It’s an integral part of free speech; ridicule and satire simply cannot be boiled out and separated from free speech. It’s impossible,” an editor for the Augusta Chronicle published.
A source from the ACLU said that while one cannot use a minor’s picture without the parents or legal guardian’s permission, those over the age of 18 are evaluated differently. “An image can be used in a picture without someone’s permission, but only if the creator makes some attempt at concealing their true identity, if the cropped picture is one that the person wouldn’t normally take.”
The legislation will receive a vote during this session. Representative Smith’s office was unavailable for comment.
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