The music industry probably would be happy if 2 Live Crew simply disappeared. While the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, ASCAP, BMI, the Country Music Association and other members of the newly formed Coalition Against Lyrics Legislation have been quite vocal about lyrics legislation, they have been curiously silent the past four months as judicial forces, mostly in Florida but in several other states as well, have gone after the Miami-based rap group on obscenity charges. Apparently it's easier to rally around free speech and First Amendment rights than it is to support a controversial group in obscenity issues.

Labeling and obscenity are two distinct issues, says Trish Heimers of the RIAA. "Even before voluntary labeling, we were always subject to obscenity laws. And even if mandatory labeling passes, we still would be subject to obscenity laws in those states where sound recordings are included in the obscenity statutes."

The court ruling Thursday in Florida on 2 Live Crew's "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" "is the first time a musical composition has been deemed to be obscene, so this is the first time our industry has been faced with the issue," Heimers points out. Like the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, "we did not want to get involved on the local level, but on the appellate level we anticipate filing an amicus brief in the civil case. In terms of the criminal charges, we are investigating every option. We will most vigorously defend 2 Live Crew's right to artistic expression."

As for the arrest of members of the group during the weekend, Karl Freed, executive director of the North American Concert Promoters Association, says, "Our stance is that it violates the First Amendment, restricting free speech of performers. One of the problems with the arrest was that it was an adults-only club, and was advertised as an adults-only show. This is a live performance -- it's no different than some of the comedians that are allowed to perform live on the stage these days. As promoters, we think that any restriction of expression jeopardizes our business as concert promoters, especially because of the subjectivity of the people making the arrests. We're coming into a time when the government is telling us what we can and cannot watch as adults, and that's a severe infringement on our civil liberties."

Florida state Rep. Joe Arnall, whose mandatory lyrics labeling bill is one of those on hold as the industry implements its new voluntary stickering system, expressed surprise at the arrest of 2 Live Crew after its show last weekend. "The scope of my bill didn't pertain to performances at all," he says. (Bills in some states, including Missouri, do.) "If parents don't understand that some of these groups are X-rated in their performances, they're really not paying attention, but I don't think many minors go to 2 Live Crew shows. Let's put it this way: If adults want to go to that type of entertainment, fine."

In Florida, George Corlius, a spokesman for the Broward County sheriff's office, said yesterday that some thought had been given Saturday to arresting audience members who chanted the lyrics along with 2 Live Crew, but that it was "impractical." (Some fans wore T-shirts with the slogan "I Used to Live in America, Now I Live in Broward County.") He also confirmed that in the South Florida counties affected by last week's ruling, possession of "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" is technically a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

"We do not plan to actively {pursue}, unless we receive a valid complaint from someone to the effect that harm is being done to the complainer through the possession or transmitting of the music, perhaps publicly," Corlius said. "Then we would respond just as we did to the complaint about the obscene nature of the lyrics {of "Nasty"} by investigating it and asking the court to prescribe some remedy."

Meanwhile, 2 Live Crew is preparing a new album, "Banned in the USA," which Luther Campbell (whose former stage name was Luke Skyywalker) says will be even "dirtier" than "As Nasty as They Wanna Be." The release date? The Fourth of July. The cover will feature 2 Live Crew leader Campbell standing in front of an American flag, offering a one-finger salute.

From the Record Affront

Perry Farrell, the lead singer and songwriter for the Los Angeles band Jane's Addiction, has had to provide two covers for the group's upcoming album, "Ritual de lo Habitual." The original cover, designed by Farrell, is a painting of him with two nubile women; all three figures are frontally naked and friendly. Warner Bros. Records executives subsequently informed him that, in light of growing conservatism among record retailers, such a cover would likely be banned from many stores, a situation Farrell probably understood beforehand: The cover of the band's debut, "Nothing's Shocking," featuring two naked nymphets, was shocking enough that nine of the 11 biggest record chains refused to carry it.

Subsequently, Farrell designed an alternate cover, though his original will be available to retailers on request when the album is released in August. The new cover is blank except for the title and, in small print, Article 1 of the Constitution, the one about Congress making no laws "abridging the freedom of speech or of the press."