TN Court Okays Nashville Crackdown on Home Recording Studios

P. Gardner Goldsmith | October 10, 2019
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“Little Leviathan” -- the overbearing hand of regional government -- strikes again, and it offers everyone a larger lesson to take with them to their own home towns.

Most American citizens used to live under the mistaken apprehension that their property was each of theirs to enjoy and use as long as he or she didn’t bring direct harm to the life or property of another. At that point, the aggrieved party could bring a tortious claim for damages.

But now, the ugly face of reality is staring most Americans down, and that face just got another wrinkle in the form of a court ruling over what has become a problem for many home-based musicians and music producers in Nashville, Tennessee.

Christian Britschgi reports for Reason that the Davidson County Chancery Court just upheld a Nashville Metro law that forbids any home business owner from serving clients on-site.


Writes Britschgi:

The law has been a burden on the city's numerous home studio owners who, thanks to the Nashville Metro government's ban on client visits, are technically unable to charge musicians to record in their home studios. Most studio owners are able to fly under the radar. Those who are reported to Metro can have their businesses upended overnight.

So, instead of a thriving, competitive market for audio recording and production in “Music City,” the Nashville Metro politicians and the County court are perpetuating the lock-hold of established production studios on the system, and keeping untold thousands of musicians and producers in the murky legal depths of the black market.

Britschgi highlights the plight of Lij Shaw, a Grammy-winning producer who ran his successful and respected home-based studio in Nashville until 2015, when the evidently fun-hating, license-loving politicos in the Metro government found him on their radar and:

In 2015, he was hit with a cease and desist letter from Metro, which demanded that he stop receiving clients at his home, shut down his promotional YouTube channel, and strip information about his business from his website or else be fined.

Nothing like private property, freedom of contract, freedom of voluntary association, and freedom of speech, eh, Metro?

And it’s not just musicians and music producers. Outside the music field, there are people such as Pat Raynor, who got targeted by the Nashville Metro government for running a home salon in 2017.

Both Raynor and Shaw went to court over the government bullying, and they were represented by the well-known Institute for Justice and the regional free-market organization, the Beacon Center.

But, no surprise, the County Court was not friendly to the ideas of freedom, private property, voluntary association and contract. Instead:

In an opinion published Tuesday, however, Chancellor Anne Martin agreed with Nashville's argument that because one could imagine potential harms (italics added) coming from allowing home businesses to service clients on-site, the Metro government's rules were rational, and therefore constitutional.

And here, once more, we see the ugly mugs of contemporary collectivism, big Leviathan, and history-forgetting judicial complicity as well.

As anyone familiar with political philosophy and legal history can attest, the idea of “harm” is the centerpiece of what is called “Tort Law,” which, in turn, is based on Medieval British Common Law. The practice in Common Law was that a person who felt he or she, or his or her property, had been harmed by another or a group of others, could bring suit for damages as long as the potential plaintiff could show “harm”.

As a result, Tort Law was only the purview of real people, not the state. Since the state is not a person, it cannot claim ownership of its own “life”, and, therefore, cannot lay any valid claim to the property used to support that life. This is a fundamentally important distinction, and one often lost on contemporary Westerners. It spotlights the invalid nature of state penalties levied against people engaged in actions that did not see other individuals sue for damages. Fines and penalties for “not doing it the way the politicians command” are utterly contradictory to self-ownership and private property. This history of Tort Law also reveals that the state is not supposed to enjoin, or block, voluntary actions on or with private property. All of these regulations run contrary to the very bedrock of Western jurisprudence going back over 1,000 years.

Instead, we get contemporary “Chancellors” waxing poetic about “imagined” and “potential” harms. And if that is the standard by which government is allowed to operate, to threaten with fines, to threaten with armed police visits and potential arrest, then, on a practical level, they’ve opened Pandora’s Box.

Do you want friends to visit to play Dungeons and Dragons?

Having a baby shower?

Do you have a Bible Study?

Do you walk your dog?

Do you walk?

Do you exist?

Every one of those questions, if answered in the affirmative – and one hopes the last is an affirmative, otherwise we have some curious existential matters to resolve – could put you in the scope of the Chancellor’s regulatory rifle. Every one opens the door to “imagined potential harms” for neighbors, and could, under this intellectually vacuous, ethically empty, decision, see agents of the state backed by the court stop you from engaging in that activity.

Of course, economically, the court decision means that small production studios will not be able to legally compete against large Nashville recording studios, which is typically the reason politicians write these kinds of restrictive laws. They serve the entrenched, large firms, helping them exclude small, cheaper competition from entering the market. The little business owner is stuck, and the poor are shut out from being able to get a low-priced service they might want. That practice of blocking competition through the “regulatory hand of the state” is called “Rent Seeking,” and it is always harmful to an economy.

But many politicians, and, clearly, a number of people on the Davidson County Chancery Court don’t care.