8076 – A Wordy Decision


When the Supreme Court takes a close look at dirty words, well, you can read the handwriting on the wall.  This case got started when Cher appeared on Billboard Music Awards and addressed her critics saying simply, “f” them.  Then Nicole Richie asked on the Simple Life, “Have you ever tried to get cow s— out of a Prada purse?  It’s not so effing simple.”  In each situation, the FCC received complaints that children were in the audience and decided to issue notices of liability.  Fox and other networks sued arguing for years the FCC imposed liability only when expletives were used repeatedly and deliberately and that fleeting and spontaneous use were forgiven.  The Second Circuit found for the networks but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed, concluding it was reasonable for the agency to assume that creating a safe harbor for isolated uses would lead to their increase.  Four justices dissented, but the majority ruled and as for “f” words, well, there’s no way fudging way around it, fleeting has fled, replaced by future fines.


FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., U.S. Supreme Court, No. 07-582, April 28, 2009, Scalia, J., U.S. Law Week, Vol. 77, No. 42, Pg. 4337, 5-5-09