Entertainment law is a broad body of law which integrates contract law as well as intellectual property law. Every television show, movie script, and book is governed by these legal issues.

In other words, entertainment law is an umbrella term which covers all areas of law that are associated with:

  • Television;
  • Film;
  • Music;
  • Publishing;
  • Advertising;
  • News media; and
  • The internet.

Entertainment law governs a vast array of issues and may range from defamation issues to labor disputes. For more information of entertainment law, see the following LegalMatch articles:

What Regulates Television and Radio Broadcasting?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was established by the Communications Act of 1934. This agency is charged with regulating interstate and international communications made by:

  • Radio;
  • Television;
  • Wire;
  • Satellite; and
  • Cable.

The jurisdiction of the FCC covers:

  • All 50 states;
  • The District of Columbia; and
  • United States possessions.

What are the Goals of the FCC?

There are two primary concerns of the Federal Communications Commission. The first goal is to provide stability to the communications marketplace while also facilitating the innovation which is needed for the future.

The second aim of the Federal Communications Commission is to ensure that radio and television programming content does not violate the United States federal law standards.

What are the Standards for Television and Radio Broadcasting Content?

The Federal Communications Commission has been granted broad powers in regulating the communications industry. However, Title III of the Communications Act of 1934 prohibits the FCC from censoring radio broadcasts or television programs unless they are depicting or uttering obscene or indecent language over a broadcast station.

The FCC’s enforcement actions regarding broadcasting of obscene or indecent materials are based on documented complaints of indecent or obscene broadcasting that are received from the public. The FCC’s staff reviews each complaint in order to determine whether or not a violation of the prohibition on obscenity or indecency has occurred.

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

In 1966, Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to provide the American public with greater access to the records of the federal government. Since then, Congress has amended the FOIA statute many times.

The most recent amendments, the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 (E-FOIA) expanded the scope of the FOIA to encompass electronic records. This amendment also requires the creation of electronic reading rooms to make records more easily and widely available to the public.

What Type of Information is Available upon a FOIA Request?

Pursuant to the FOIA and the FCC’s implementing rules, an individual is permitted to obtain copies of the FCC records unless those records contain information which is exempt under the FOIA from mandatory disclosure. There are several categories of information which are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, including:

  • Records that are classified as national defense or foreign policy materials;
  • Trade secrets and commercial or financial information which was obtained from an individual and is considered privileged or confidential;
  • Inter-agency or intra-agency letters or memoranda which would not be available to a party in litigation with that agency;
  • Personnel, medical and similar files, disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; and
  • Records compiled for law enforcement purposes.

What is the Difference between Obscene, Indecent, and Profane Programming?

Broadcasting of obscene programming is prohibited at all times by federal law. During certain hours of the date, indecent or profane programming is prohibited.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for enforcing the law that governs these types of broadcasts. There are certain steps that the FCC may take to punish an entity for the broadcast of obscene or indecent programming, including:

  • Revoking a station license;
  • Imposing a monetary forfeiture; and
  • Issuing a warning.

What is the Law on Obscene Programming?

Obscene broadcasts are prohibited at all times. These types of broadcasts are not protected by the First Amendment. Obscene programs are programs that meet the following requirements:

  • An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient, or sexual or lascivious, interest;
  • The material must depict or describe, in an offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and
  • Taken as a whole, the material must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

What are Indecent Broadcasts?

Indecent broadcasts are broadcasts where the language or material depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards, sexual or excretory organs or activities. Indecent programming, however, does not rise to the same level as obscene programming.

Indecent programming can be restricted in order to avoid the chances of children viewing the broadcast. Television and radio broadcasts which are deemed to be indecent that air between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. are subject to enforcement.

What are Profane Broadcasts?

Profane broadcasts contain language or epithets that tend to provoke violent resentment. They may also include language which is offensive to members of the public, or is a nuisance.

Profanity is prohibited from being used on broadcasts that air between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

How Do I File a Complaint?

Enforcement by the Federal Communications Commission is based upon documented complaints. These complaints are provided by members of the public regarding a broadcast.

An individual may file a written complaint and send it to the FCC at:

FCC, Enforcement Bureau
Investigations and Hearings Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554.

An individual may also visit the consumer complaint center on the FCC website. On the website, an individual can file complaints related to broadcasting as well as other communications issues, for example, unwanted phone calls.

The FCC website provides that the FCC may not be able to resolve all individual complaints. However, the FCC may be able to provide information about the next steps an individual should take.

The individual filing the complaint will be asked to provide the following information:

  • The date and time of the broadcast;
  • The call sign of the station involved;
  • Information regarding what was actually said during the broadcast, for example, a significant excerpt of the program or a full or partial tape or transcript.

The information that is provided must be sufficiently detailed so that the FCC is able to determine the works and language which is actually used as well as their context. If it appears there was a violation, the FCC will commence an investigation.

If the proper information is not provided, the complaint may be dismissed.

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced in Television or Radio Broadcasting Issues?

If you have an issue with the content of a television show or radio programming content, you should contact the FCC and notify them regarding your concerns. If you desire to file a complaint with the FCC, you can do it on your own and will not likely need the assistance of a lawyer.

It may be helpful, however, to consult with an entertainment lawyer who can inform you of the laws governing indecent and obscene broadcasts. If the FCC is unable to resolve your complaint or if you have any other issues, an attorney who is experienced with television and radio broadcasting issues will be able to assist you with your legal question or dispute.