In the blogosphere and on the message boards of the Internet, “photoshopping” one person’s head on another’s body is a common form of expression and often amusement. But after ending up on the “butt-end” of one of those jokes, a Georgia State legislator has come out to say that he’s far from amused.
Rep. Earnest Smith is co-sponsoring Georgia Assembly House Bill 39. If passed, the legislation would outlaw the unauthorized skewing of images with intent to defame or “make fun of.” A photo, which has gone viral online, placed Smith’s head on a porn star’s body.
“No one has a right to make fun of anyone. It’s not a First Amendment right,” Smith said in an interview with Fox News.
Rep. Smith was said to be unavailable when ABC News asked for comment.
The bill makes direct mention of nudity, obscene depiction, and sexual conduct, which directly relate to Rep. Smith’s now-viral lewd photo. The bill proposes that anyone in the state of Georgia found guilty of creating an image similar to the one in which Rep. Smith appeared “shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000.00 or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.”
“A person commits the offense of defamation if such person intentionally causes an unknowing person wrongfully to be identified as the person in an obscene depiction in such a manner that a reasonable person would conclude that the image depicted was that of the person so wrongfully identified,” the proposed law says.
Sure, it’s vague legal jargon, but, as stated, the law would aim to give state authorities some jurisdiction over free speech and even parody, which is why Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State who teaches about Internet law, says stopping photoshopping is going to be a lot like trying to stop political cartoons.
“There is a lot of First Amendment protection for pictures and speech,” Swire said. “Politicians have been the subject of cartoons for as long a we have had cartoons; calling it photoshopped doesn’t change that.”
Swire cited a case from 1998, in which Jerry Falwell took on Hustler Magazine for a piece that poked fun at Falwell’s first sexual experience. The case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the magazine.
When asked about such concerns, Rep. Smith said that the individuals who create these kinds of images are “vulgar.”
“This is about being vulgar,” he said. “We’re becoming a nation of vulgar people.”
Fellow Georgia State Rep. Pam Dickerson was the author of a similar 2012 bill that failed in the General Assembly. She and Rep. Smith have now teamed up to try and get HR 39 passed, apparently regardless of how many “photoshopping” jobs people may do on them along the way.