Showing a ‘distressing’ image could make you a criminal in Tennessee

“A person commits an offense who intentionally:
(4) Communicates with another person or transmits or displays an image in a manner in which there is a reasonable expectation that the image will be viewed by the victim by [by telephone, in writing or by electronic communication] without legitimate purpose:
(A) (i) With the malicious intent to frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress; or
(ii) In a manner the defendant knows, or reasonably should know, would frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities; and
(B) As the result of the communication, the person is frightened, intimidated or emotionally distressed.”

-approved amendment to Tennessee Code Title 39, Chapter 17, Part 3

Another week, another law restricting photography. Last we wrote about Florida and Iowa trying to limit photography of agricultural operations. Now, an amendment to the Tennessee Code (Title 39, Chapter 17, Part 3) signed into law in May 2011 and effective July 1, 2011, will make it illegal to transmit, display or otherwise communicate images that will “frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress” for viewers. The relevant section of the amendment is excerpted above.

The Volokh Conspiracy site, a group blog primarily written by US law professors, has some analysis of what sorts of images might be punishable by jail if posted online or otherwise displayed.

For instance, “If you’re posting a picture of someone in an embarrassing situation — not at all limited to, say, sexually themed pictures or illegally taken pictures — you’re likely a criminal unless the prosecutor, judge, or jury concludes that you had a ‘legitimate purpose.’ The same is true even if you didn’t intend to distress those people, but reasonably should have known that the material — say, pictures of Mohammed, or blasphemous jokes about Jesus Christ, or harsh cartoon insults of some political group — would ’cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities.’”

(via Rob Mattson on twitter)

One Response to “Showing a ‘distressing’ image could make you a criminal in Tennessee”

  1. Brandt Hardin

    You can see my response to this new law as a Tennessee artist on my artist’s blog at with my portrait of our Governor Bill Haslam and his ravishing wife.

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