Circulation of Motion Pictures and Video Productions: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights

American Libraries, May 1985 | Go to article overview
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Circulation of Motion Pictures and Video Productions: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights


As more libraries add motion pictures and video productions to their collections, the question of circulating to minors commercial motion pictures and video productions with an MPAA rating code has been raised. Since most librarians and the public at large do not understand that the Motion Picture Association of America ratings have no standing in law and that the ratings are designed only to inform parents and theater owners of the content of motion pictures and video productions, the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the American Library Association wishes to inform people facing the problem of the following issues involved in the situation.

Legal points

The following information has been provided by ALA Counsel Mary hutchings Reed of Sidley & Austin.

1. In one noteworthy case, a federal judge struck down a municipal ordinance that made it a crime to admit minors to "R" or "X" rated movies without their parents or guardians. Engdahl v. City of Kenosha, 317 F. Supp. 1122 (E.D. Wis. 1970). The court held the law unconstitutional because the MPAA's standards were too vague to enforce criminally and did not match the Supreme Court's guidelines for deciding what is obscene to minors.

2. In addition, the court ruled that the government could not delegate to a private party like the MPAA the power to set the standards for criminal conduct.

3. ...however, "access to minor" statutes in some states may prohibit libraries from loaning certain motion pictures and video productions to minors. The Supreme Court has ruled that states may legitimately deny minors access to materials that are constitutionally available to adults, Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629 (1968), and most states have enacted access to minor statutes that implement this double standard.

The great majority of statutes specifically exempt libraries or other "educational" activities from this coverage, but statutes in Mississippi, for example, do not. Libraries in those states should be aware that they could face prosecution for lending to minors a motion picture or video production that they could legally have lent to an adult.

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