Free Speech

"Free Speech Rules," My New YouTube Video Series—Episode 4 (Who Owns Your Life Story?) Now Out

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Thanks to a generous grant from the Stanton Foundation, and to the video production work of Meredith Bragg and Austin Bragg at, I'm putting together a series of short, graphical YouTube videos—10 episodes to start with—explaining free speech law. Our first three videos were "7 Things You Should Know About Free Speech in Schools," "The Three Rules of Hate Speech and the First Amendment," and "Fake News and the First Amendment." Our fourth, just released, is "Who Owns Your Life Story?"

We'd love it if you

  1. Watched this.
  2. Shared this widely.
  3. Suggested people or organizations whom we might be willing to help spread it far and wide (obviously, the more detail on the potential contacts, the better).
  4. Gave us feedback on the style of the presentation, since we're always willing to change the style as we learn more.

Please post your suggestions in the comments, or e-mail me at volokh at

Future videos in the series will likely include most of the following, plus maybe some others:

  • Alexander Hamilton: free press pioneer.
  • Free speech at college.
  • Free speech on the Internet.
  • Money and speech / corporations and speech.
  • Speech and privacy.

NEXT: Dangers of a World Where "Almost Anyone Can be Arrested for Something"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Are these videos accurate explanations of the law as it is, or advocacy of the law as Prof. Volokh thinks it should be? For instance, we have learned that the First Amendment does not protect a wedding photographer who declines to produce photographs of a gay wedding. And it protects the right to protest the Vietnam War in school, but not the right to condemn homosexuality. (Also not the right to make a sign that says, “Bong hits for Jesus.”) Do the videos elucidate these issues?

    1. 1. I try to be as accurate and fair in my summary of the law as possible in these videos.

      2. I talk about the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case and the Vietnam War protest case in the K-12 speech video.

      3. I don’t feel bound by lower court cases, unless there’s a solid pattern; for instance, that the New Mexico Supreme Court has said that the First Amendment doesn’t protect the wedding photographer you describe doesn’t strike me as settling the matter. (I haven’t made any videos about that set of questions yet, in part because the law is so unclear.) I sometimes mention lower court cases, if I think they’re especially interesting, but I flag them as just lower court cases.

      4. Likewise, the Court hasn’t held that the First Amendment doesn’t protect the right to condemn homosexuality in school; nor have lower courts generally done so. (If you’re referring to Harper v. Poway Unified School Dist. (9th Cir. 2006), that decision was vacated on mootness grounds, and is thus no longer precedent even in the Ninth Circuit.)

  2. I watched all four videos, I’m not a lawyer. I liked the first three well enough, found the fourth one a meh. I was wondering, throughout, what the intended audience might be. Are these Cliff notes in video forms for a law school exam? Info for college students? The general public? High school teachers, administrators, and students? The biased political actors called journalists? My problem with the videos is that I found them too fast, too breezy, and too light. Obviously, you can’t go into great depths in this format, but I missed a clearer emphasis on what I thought was the main implication of the four presentations seen jointly — that there really is no such thing as “free speech”, well defined and well articulated by the courts. The law is constantly being challenged and amended by new arguments and cases. In the end, the First Amendment opens up all kinds of opportunities for mischief. Thus, your videos should show the areas of critical tension, and let us hear more about the pros and cons. It’s the flux that is of interest, and the modern political drift towards increasing authoritarianism over speech. I look forward to your video about college speech, there is much education needed there, if the future of free speech is to be improved.

    1. My target audience is junior high school, high school, and college students who want to know what the law actually is (as best we can determine it); and I expect that many adults would be interested in this as well.

      There are certainly lots of areas in which the law is unclear, and sometimes I note them. But there are lots of areas in which it’s quite clear, has been stable for decades, and is likely to stay stable for decades to come (though of course not forever).

      I appreciate the value of videos that provide arguments for both sides in some situation where the law is not settled; but, generally speaking, that’s not what I’m trying to do here.

  3. Look, so long as they have Martin Sheen play me in the biopic…

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