In the age of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, modern technology has made it more and more difficult to keep private information private. In a fast-paced information age, there are more tools than ever to defame another or invade another’s privacy. From a defamatory comment on Facebook to “revenge pornography”, in which embarrassing private images or videos are published online without consent, the social media landscape provides a forum for all sorts of off-color behavior. Although the use of mass social media to disclose embarrassing material is a relatively recent phenomenon, it can be addressed with a set of legal principles that are much older than the internet. The legal remedies available may include money damages, or an injunction to have the offensive material taken down. Accordingly, if someone has taken an embarrassing, private photo or video of you, and posted it on social media without your consent, then you might be able to bring a legal claim against them. If you believe that your privacy rights may have been violated, then it’s important that you find an experienced attorney who knows the difference between the various privacy claims that can be brought, and how to balance them against any First Amendment considerations.
The California Civil Code now includes a statutory protection to allow victims of disclosure of embarrassing and/or private material to sue for money damages and injunctive relief. California also recognizes four distinct privacy tort claims: intrusion into private matters, portraying someone in false light, public disclosure of private facts, and appropriation of name or likeness. These claims are often similar to slander or libel claims, since they often involve publicly disclosing information without someone’s consent, which causes harm to that person’s reputation. And like libel or slander, courts often find that privacy claims are in conflict with a person’s First Amendment freedom of speech. For example, when someone discloses information about a celebrity, courts will often hesitate to hold the publisher of that information liable, since the publisher has a First Amendment right to publish newsworthy information.
For example, the Florida Supreme Court recently decided the case of Bollea v. Gawker, which exposed an unusual wrinkle in this aspect of privacy law. That case involved Terry Bollea, better known by his professional name of Hulk Hogan, who had been the subject of a sex tape published on Gawker.com. During that trial, Bollea’s attorneys argued that although Hulk Hogan was a public figure, Terry Bollea was not, and thus private facts about Terry Bollea’s sex life were not newsworthy, and the sex tape was thus not protected under the First Amendment. The Florida Supreme Court ultimately agreed with this argument and upheld the decision to award Terry Bollea hundreds of millions of dollars to repair his decimated privacy that he cherished so much. Although the result of this case is controversial, and it likely would have turned out differently if it had been brought in California, it highlights an important fact about privacy litigation: if you want to succeed in your claim and receive all the damages you deserve, you need a trial attorney who knows the applicable privacy law, including all the constitutional considerations created by the First Amendment.
If you are in need of legal assistance, call our office at (805) 498-1212. DK Law Group is a team of experienced civil litigators and trial lawyers with a reputation for integrity and aggressive representation.
David M. Karen, Esq.
DK Law Group, LLP