False Light - Letting it all Hang Out

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False Light - Letting it all Hang Out

Jan 13, 2013

Muffin Top

Do you like to be told that you have a muffin top? If you said "yes," that would be a first for me. Most people I know would find the comment to be highly offensive (because it is). Their response would be something to the effect of "why would you say something like that?" or "who the hell do you think you are?"

Now imagine that you are a teenager and the Los Angeles Times declares you to be part of the muffin top club in an article titled "Letting it all Hang Out" featuring a picture of you wearing hip hugger jeans with your waist spilling over the top. Your friends tease you mercilessly. What can you do?

Enter the false light branch of the right of privacy. You can sue for false light when there is (1) a publication, (2) of information that showed you in a false light, (3) that is highly offensive to a reasonable person, (4) with knowledge of, or reckless disregard of, the falsity (if the person suing is a public figure) …. or … that the defendant was negligent in determining whether a false impression would be created (if a private person) and (5) that caused harm.

Unfortunately for our embarrassed teenager, the highly offensive story is factually true. And any lawsuit for false light invasion of privacy would fail. That said, it is always wise to be aware of the context of a photo in a story and use caution when adding a caption.

In my next post I'll talk about "The Case of the Plucky Porker."

Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.

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