The Semiotics of Film in US Supreme Court Cases

Jessica M. Silbey

Northeastern University School of Law

Meghan Slack

Law Office of Meghan Slack


LAW, CULTURE AND VISUAL STUDIES (Springer 2014), p. 179
Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 14-16

This chapter explores the treatment of film as a cultural object among varied legal subject matter in US Supreme Court jurisprudence. Film is significant as an object or industry well beyond its incarnation as popular media. Its role in law – even the highest level of US appellate law – is similarly varied and goes well beyond the subject of a copyright case (as a moving picture) or as an evidentiary proffer (as a video of a criminal confession). This chapter traces the discussion of film in US Supreme Court cases in order to map the wide-ranging and diverse ­relations of film to law – a semiotics of film in the high court’s jurisprudence – to decouple the notion of film with entertainment or visual truth.

This chapter discerns the many ways in which the court perceives the role of film in legal disputes and social life. It also illuminates how the court imagines and reconstitutes through its decisions the evolving forms and significances of film and film spectatorship as an interactive public for film in society. As such, this project contributes to the work on the legal construction of social life, exploring how court cases constitute social reality through their legal discourse. It also speaks to film enthusiasts and critics who understand that film is much more than entertainment and is, in practice, a conduit of information and a mechanism for lived experience. Enmeshed in the fabric of society, film is political, commercial, expressive, violent, technologically sophisticated, economically valuable, uniquely persuasive, and, as these cases demonstrate, constantly evolving.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 26

Keywords: law and humanities, law and culture, law and film, semiotics, first amendment, obscenity, copyright, intellectual property, pornography, search and seizure

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Date posted: June 9, 2014  

Suggested Citation

Silbey, Jessica M. and Slack, Meghan, The Semiotics of Film in US Supreme Court Cases (2014). LAW, CULTURE AND VISUAL STUDIES (Springer 2014), p. 179; Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 14-16. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2446976

Contact Information

Jessica M. Silbey (Contact Author)
Northeastern University School of Law ( email )
400 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115
United States
Meghan Slack
Law Office of Meghan Slack ( email )
Arlington, MA 02476
United States
6173267777 (Phone)
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