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Invasion of Privacy Laws

All individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy - over their personal media, private beliefs and conduct, and embedded in their right not to have personal information revealed to the public in an embarrassing or offensive manner. Today's technological landscape promotes the rapid spread of information online, allowing reputations to be ruined in a matter of minutes.

As a result, it's especially important to know about invasion of privacy laws and how to assert your rights in the event of a violation. If you suspect that your privacy has been invaded, there may be a cause of action available to you. Below, you'll find information about the four types of invasion of privacy claims.

Appropriation of Name or Likeness

If a person or entity has used your name, likeness, or - depending on the state in which you live - your voice, portrait, signature, or photograph, without permission, and to derive some benefit whether noncommercial or commercial, then you may have a legitimate claim for appropriation of name or likeness. To succeed in an appropriation claim, you must prove the following elements:

  1. Consent was not granted for the use of your identity.
  2. The defendant's use of your identity brought him or her an immediate, direct benefit. Whether the benefit derived can be noncommercial depends on the controlling state law.
  3. The aspect of your identity that was appropriated is protected under the law. State law controls, so any statutory and case law differences between states will affect your potential claim.

Public Disclosure of Private Facts

You have a right to secrecy over the details of your private life. When a person comes to learn something about you that is not generally known and then discloses the fact to the public, you may have an invasion of privacy claim for the public disclosure of private facts. The invasion of privacy laws of some states - such as New York - do not recognize this cause of action, so it is important that you further assess the applicable state law if you believe that your rights have been violated in this manner.

To succeed in a public disclosure claim, you must prove the following elements:

  1. The disclosed fact was not generally known to the public prior to disclosure.
  2. There was a public disclosure. Generally, the disclosure must be made to enough people that it is reasonably likely that the fact will inevitably become public knowledge.
  3. The disclosure would be offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities. This does not account for specific sensitivities. In other words, a thin-skinned person will not be able to bring a claim for a disclosure that wouldn't be offensive to the average person. Generally, sexual disclosures are considered inherently offensive, whereas the offensiveness of other disclosures depends on the context.

Again, for invasion of privacy, state law controls, and there are significant differences between the invasion of privacy laws of different states. Some states may require that the plaintiff prove additional elements, such as the defendant's reckless disregard. The applicable law will determine the strength and scope of your claim.

False Light

You also have the right not to have information about you disclosed in such a manner that it misleads the public, thus portraying you in a "false light". Unlike a defamation cause of action, where the plaintiff cannot succeed if the disclosed information is true, the plaintiff in a false light cause of action can sue over truthful disclosed information, so long as that information is disclosed in such a way as to be misleading to the public.

To succeed in a false light claim, you must prove the following elements:

  1. There must have been a public disclosure of information.
  2. The disclosure must portray the plaintiff in a false or misleading light.
  3. The disclosure must be highly offensive or embarrassing to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.
  4. The disclosure must have been made with reckless disregard to its offensiveness or embarrassing nature.

Whether or not these elements have been met will depend on the context of the case. As an example of what might constitute a false light claim, consider the possibility of a newspaper printing your photograph next to an article about a criminal committing various heinous acts. Perhaps the photograph and article are structured in such a way that a reasonable person would associate the photograph with the content of the article. These circumstances would most likely give rise to a false light claim.

Intrusion of Solitude

You have a right not to have your "seclusion" - your physical or visible privacy - intruded upon by another without permission. A claim for intrusion of solitude usually comes into play against peeping toms, stalkers, people engaging in phone harassment, and people snooping through your private records.

To succeed in an intrusion claim, you must prove the following elements:

  1. The defendant must have intentionally intruded upon your solitude, seclusion, or some other private affair. An intrusion may be physical or nonphysical (using long range camera equipment, binoculars, electronic intrusions, etc.).
  2. The intrusion must be highly offensive to a reasonable person. This is very context-sensitive, but it is generally considered that matters of public interest are not highly offensive to a reasonable person.
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