The Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) extends 'Parental Advisory' stickering to ads and online retailers...

In a new move likely to cause heated debate among anti-censorship activists, US music industry body the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) will next month introduce new guidelines calling for the present system of ‘Parental Advisory’ stickering to be extended to advertisements and online music retailers.

The RIAA’s new guidelines come into effect on October 1 and call on record companies and music-selling websites to add advisory messages to advertisements promoting records with explicit content, and to add the logo to web pages from which site users can buy these records. In a detailed statement on their website (, the RIAA says these new guidelines are designed to make sure that the use of the stickers is consistent. From this year, the guidelines will be reviewed annually.

Hilary Rosen, the RIAA’s President and Chief Operating Officer, said, in a statement, that “the [Parental Advisory Labelling] program was conceived as a delicate balance – respecting the freedom of expression our recording artists deserve and the overwhelming First Amendment protection enjoyed by music, while also respecting the legitimate needs of parents and guardians for a cautionary notice about explicit content.”

The guidelines define “suggested labelling criteria”, including allowing for the context in which the artist “may be performing the material” and “varying interpretations of the material”, as well as the existing criteria for stickering of sexually explicit content, violence and drug use. “Lyrics when accompanied by loud and raucous music can be perceived differently than the same lyrics when accompanied by soft and soothing music,” the guidelines additionally point out, a phrase that will inevitably be seen as an attack on rap and rock musics.

The new guidelines mark the first time the record industry has asked any entity other than record companies to place warning notices on records. Websites are advised to place the ‘Parental Advisory’ logo on every page viewed during a transaction in which a stickered CD or cassette is being purchased. As yet, there is no clear indication from the major online music retailers about how they will react to being asked to effectively discourage certain users from purchasing certain records; at present, most online retailers note that a record has explicit lyrics only when a ‘clean’ version is also available. It is also unclear as yet how websites hosted outside the USA will respond to the guidelines, which are voluntary.

The ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers were adopted by the music industry in 1985 following pressure from the Parents’ Music Resource Center, an organisation headed by Tipper Gore, wife of US Presidential candidate Al Gore, in a bid to give guidance to parents as to which records might be unsuitable for their children. The stickers came to global prominence with the rise of gangsta rap in the late ’80s, at some points actually having the opposite effect to that which had been intended, and encouraging record-buyers looking for explicit material to buy stickered albums. Widely perceived at the time by music fans and civil libertarians as a form of backdoor censorship of anti-establishment rap and rock music, the stickers became part of music fan iconography, spawning parodies and becoming featured on T-shirts.

The RIAA are part of an umbrella organisation of media associations that have compiled a website to detail all ‘Parental Advisory’ initiatives across platforms such as TV, films, the Internet and computer games. The site, which includes details of all guidelines, can be found at