Sunday, August 25, 2013

Boardwalk Violinist vs. City Hall: Challenging Ocean City's Noise Ban

Ocean City, Maryland is known for a bustling boardwalk that's packed with the sights, smells, and sounds of summer.

The city's leaders, however, felt the noise was becoming too much to bear and approved an ordinance prohibiting anyone from being audible from more than 30 feet away while on the boardwalk.

Mayor Rick Meehan tells Reason that the goal was "to ensure that everybody had an opportunity to enjoy Ocean City."

But that wasn't how William Hassay saw it after being hassled by cops. Hassay has been entertaining passersby for almost 20 years by playing his violin for tips. "I was told I would be cited and that I would be subjected to face jail time," he says.

So Hassay reached out to the ACLU of Maryland to defend his right to play music.

"The distance limitation that Ocean City choose was so restrictive," James Burke, a lawyer on Hassay's case explains. "All sorts of sounds are audible at 30 feet." A judge granted a preliminary injunction against the noise ban, though Meehan says the city will rewrite the law.

Hassay hopes the preliminary injunction will keep other cities from considering ultra-restrictive noise ordinances that will not only rob citizens of sweet music but other forms of free expression. "If I do lose," he says, "the meaning of [it goes] far beyond playing on the boardwalk."


Video at link.  It appears to be an acoustic violin, not an amplified one.


Anonymous said...

Does the ban also apply to police/fire/ambulance sirens? What about the call to Muslim prayers?

Anonymous said...

Playing your violin for money is not free speech, it's a business.

Anonymous said...

Business or not, the ordinance is way too restrictive. Besides, it is not directed at businesses. If you played your car stereo at moderate volume with the windows down you would be in violation of the ordinance. The land of the free is becoming very restrictive.

stinky said...

A public space is a commons and so will need some regulation. Is a 30 ft rule too restrictive? Yes it is, ask any golf announcer who, from 30 ft away, still speaks in whispers.

But a more reasonable measure is quite alright, and hardly unreasonable or unprecedented.

As for the Baby Marxists who worry about it being a "business," so what? Get a life.

One thing, tho, JJR, at about 1:04 into the video an amp is shown. Whether it was set lower for the video, I can't say. I will say that some forms of sound, such as a well-played violin, are a lot less of a problem than are others (e.g. nails on a chalkboard, jake brakes, Baby Marxists etc)