Producing Speech

54 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2014 Last revised: 11 Feb 2016

See all articles by Ashutosh Avinash Bhagwat

Ashutosh Avinash Bhagwat

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: February 5, 2014


In recent years, a large number of disputes have arisen in which parties invoke the First Amendment, but the government action they challenge does not directly regulate “speech,” as in communication. Instead, the government is restricting the creation of communicative materials that are intended to be disseminated in the future – i.e., they restrict producing speech. Examples of such disputes include bans on recording public officials in public places, Los Angeles County’s ban on bareback (condom-less) pornography, restrictions on tattoo parlors, so-called “Ag-Gag” laws forbidding making records of agricultural operations, as well as many others. The question this article address is whether such laws pose serious First Amendment problems.

I conclude that they do. First Amendment protection for conduct associated with producing speech is justified for two distinct reasons: first, because such protection is necessary to make protection for communication meaningful; and second, because the Press Clause provides a textual and historical basis for such protection. However, because speech production involves conduct that can have substantial, negative social consequences, it is also true that First Amendment protection for speech production must be limited, and probably less extensive than protection for actual communication.

In the balance of this article, I propose a doctrinal framework for how restrictions on speech production might be analyzed. The framework draws on broader free-speech principles such as the content-based/content-neutral dichotomy, and the Supreme Court’s repeated statements that the First Amendment accords special importance to speech relevant to the democratic process. However, the framework is distinct from general free-speech analysis, and for the reasons discussed above, generally more tolerant of regulation. I close by applying my proposed doctrinal rules to a number of recent disputes.

Keywords: free speech, First Amendment, Press Clause, ACLU v. Alvarez, eavesdropping, news gathering

Suggested Citation

Bhagwat, Ashutosh A., Producing Speech (February 5, 2014). 56 William & Mary Law Review 1029 (2015); UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 366. Available at SSRN:

Ashutosh A. Bhagwat (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States
(530) 752-8687 (Phone)

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