Tag Archives: Media Organization Regulations

The Right to Privacy

The new season of the Netflix series “The Crown” is out. Around this time last year I wrote a homework assignment paper about the production elements in the show for Media and Culture class. As I start to view the new Season 4, I’m recalling our studies last week in Media Organization Regulations class on the legal aspects of privacy. How does what we learned illuminate how entertainment companies depict real people in a fictionalized drama? Here is an amalagamation of a couple of last week’s homework assignments. If you like to watch “The Crown” or other dramas based on historic events and real people, you might find some of the legal considerations involved interesting. In the series are also depictions of emotional abuse and mental illness, topics I’ve written about before and which again came up in last week’s homework. Abuse takes many forms and some of them are perfectly legal. These selections have been graded by my professor but I didn’t make any changes before publishing. Please keep in mind I am not an attorney or law student, I’m an Advertising and Marketing Communications major. Enjoy!

The Right to Privacy

The theory of a right to privacy developed in US law over about the last 130 years, derived from the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 14th amendments (Trager et al 234). The right to privacy is defined as “1) The right not to have one’s personal matters disclosed or publicized; the right to be left alone. 2) The right against undue government intrusion into fundamental personal issues and decisions” (Legal Information Institute “Right to privacy”).

A tort is a transgression by one person or entity on another’s rights, resulting in an injury (Trager et al 234). Law school dean William Prosser described four torts in the following categories; “false light, appropriation, intrusion and private facts” (Trager et al 235). Commercialization and the right to publicity are sub-categories under appropriation (Trager et al 235). The right to publicity “prevents the unauthorized commercial use of an individual’s name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of one’s persona. It gives an individual the exclusive right to license the use of their identity for commercial promotion” (Legal Information Institute “Publicity”). Besides being a subset of the right to privacy, the right to publicity differs in that it prevents unauthorized commercial exploitation of an individual rather than addressing non-commercial violations of rights.

right_to_privacy_diagram

False light, intrusion and private facts only apply to living persons (Trager et al 235). The appropriation tort is broader. It applies to living persons and in addition the deceased, businesses, non-profits and associations (Trager et al 235). The states vary a great deal in which torts they recognize – many only recognize single categories or subsets and not necessarily the same ones (Trager et al 235).

Celebrities don’t forfeit their right to privacy by being celebrities, but since people want to know about them many of their activities could be considered newsworthy (Trager et al 246). That doesn’t mean people are entitled to know facts about a celebrity that are not determined to be in the public interest (Trager et al 260, 262). A person’s notoriety might make them the licit subject of a satirical, artistic or transformative work that stops short of commercial use (Trager et al 248-249), which would interfere with the celebrity’s right to publicity.

Appropriation, Commercialization and Political Speech

Appropriation torts are recognized by 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (Trager 235).  The remaining four states have yet to rule on appropriation (Trager 241).  Commercialization and the right to publicity are the two torts included in the privacy law category of appropriation (Trager 235).  Commercialization, also known as misappropriation, is the act of using the likeness or name of a living or dead person in advertising or for commercial purposes without seeking permission from the individual in question or that of the heirs (Trager 236, 241).

The commercialization prohibition is less likely to be applied to a deceased person than right of publicity because it is intended to prevent emotional distress to an individual by upholding the person’s dignity in preserving their personal right to privacy.  As a personal right, it is not usually thought by the courts to apply after death, unlike the right to publicity which deals with the monetary value of one’s identity a form of property that can be transferred or inherited (Trager 242).

Dan Frazier is a retailer and activist who sells left-wing themed political merchandise and other products through his company Lifeweaver LLC (Lifeweaver LLC, team@lifeweaver.com).  In the first decade of the 2000s he started selling anti Iraq war t-shirts with the names of U.S. soldiers who had thus far died in the war as part of the design in small print.  Enough families of the deceased soldiers were outraged by their family members names being used to make money for Frazier that laws were passed in several states making the sale of merchandise that appropriated soldiers names or likenesses without permission illegal (Fischer, “Mom Wants Dead…”).  Frazier’s home state Arizona was one of those passing such a law (Fischer).  Frazier, represented by the ACLU in a case heard in a federal court in Phoenix, was able to stop state and local officials from prosecuting him, citing First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.  The federal court declined to strike the Arizona law from the books and decided to let future similar cases be decided on their own merits (Fischer).  The defenses against appropriation are newsworthiness, the appropriated material being in the public domain, freedom of speech under the First Amendment, incidental use, self promotional ads for the mass media, and consent (Trager 245). How would these defenses possibly apply to Frazier’s case and any future cases that are similar?

Newsworthiness

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided an appropriation case based on newsworthiness before, in hearing whether a news station deprived stuntman Hugo Zacchini of his rights to make a profit from his human cannonball act by airing the entire act as part of a news broadcast.  The court found in Zacchini’s favor, giving his right to publicity more weight than the news station’s First Amendment right to free speech (Trager 247).  In Frazier’s case, newsworthiness is obliquely mentioned in the complaint (Frazier CV07-8040-PCT-NVW) but not as a factor in the decision (Frazier 07-CV-8040-PHX-NVW) though perhaps it could have been.  Deaths in war are news, and courts have previously found that newsworthiness is a defense even though news content is sometimes sold (Trager 246).  Dan Frazier presents his company as a retailer of products as opposed to a news organization (“Campaign Finance Report…”, team@lifeweaver.com).

Public Domain

The names of those killed in war are public information, as again obliquely mentioned in the complaint (Frazier CV07-8040-PCT-NVW), and in my opinion would qualify as factual information that is in the public domain (Trager 248).

First Amendment

Most prominent in the complaint and the court’s findings are issues concerning free speech under the First Amendment. Cited in the decision was a U.S. Supreme Court case, Riley v. National Federation of the Blind, which ruled that if speech is a blend of commercial and some other purpose, the two purposes cannot be parsed out and must be considered together. Given this finding, Frazier’s t-shirts were determined to be protected by First Amendment rights as any other type of political speech would be (Frazier 07-CV-8040-PHX-NVW).

Ads for the Media

Mass media may use names and likenesses of public figures in advertisements for products if the identity-related elements are part of the original content (Trager 251).  The court in Frazier’s case considered but declined to evaluate separately the legality of the t-shirt products themselves and catalog pictures of the t-shirts with close ups showing some of the soldier’s names.  Perhaps the court did not feel it necessary to comment on whether it mattered in this context whether the names were of private or public figures since it had already found that pictures of the merchandise were “inextricably intertwined with otherwise fully protected speech” (Frazier 07-CV-8040-PHX-NVW).

Consent

Frazier made no pretense to claiming consent.  His web site included a statement reading, in part, “I have no plans to remove any names or discontinue any of these products, no matter how many requests I receive” (Watters).  He and his legal team believed they did not need it, and were eventually found to be correct in the legal sense (Frazier 07-CV-8040-PHX-NVW).  Frazier’s personal code of ethics did not preclude him from acting in a way that caused some families of the fallen soldiers listed on the t-shirts to experience what they categorized, but were unable to prove in a Tennessee court, as negligent and intentional “infliction of emotional distress” (Read).

Incidental Use

Frazier did not need to invoke the defense of incidental use to justify the soldier’s names on the t-shirts, but in my opinion incidental use would have applied (Trager 252).  An individual soldier’s name was not the main focus of the shirt design and was in a font small enough to only be legible at close viewing (Frazier CV07-8040-PCT-NVW).

Lanham Act

In my opinion the commercial appropriation issues invoked by the t-shirt design are not in the “zone of interest” of the Lanham Act of 1938, which is concerned with false or misleading advertising (Trager 556).

Works Cited

“Campaign Finance Report 2010 March/May Regular Election.” City of Flagstaff, Arizona, 2010, www.flagstaff.az.gov/DocumentCenter/View/10843/Dan-Frazier. Accessed 15 November 2020.

Fischer, Howard, “Antiwar T-shirts win protection.” Capitol Media Services, 2008, azdailysun.com/news/antiwar-t-shirts-win-protection/article_d0dd0588-d6dc-5b28-acfe-70771736099a.html. Accessed 15 November 2020.

Frazier, Dan vs. Defendants. CV07-8040-PCT-NVW. 2008. Print.
—. 07-CV-8040-PHX-NVW. 2008. Print.

Legal Information Institute. “Right to privacy.” Cornell Law School, 2020, www.law.cornell.edu/wex/right_to_privacy. Accessed 12 November 2020.
—. “Publicity”. Cornell Law School, 2020, www.law.cornell.edu/wex/publicity. Accessed 12 November 2020.

“Lifeweaver LLC.” Bizapedia.com, 2019, www.bizapedia.com/nm/lifeweaver-llc.html. Accessed 15 November 2020.

“Mom Wants Dead Son Off Anti-War Shirt.” CBS Interactive Inc., 2008, www.cbsnews.com/news/mom-wants-dead-son-off-anti-war-shirt/. Accessed 15 November 2020.

Read, Robin, et al v. Lifeweaver, LLC et al. 2:08-CV-116. 2010. www.leagle.com/decision/infdco20100506b78. Accessed 15 November 2020.

team@lifeweaver.com, “Lifeweaver LLC.” 2020, lifeweaver.com. Accessed 15 November 2020.

Trager, Robert Susan Dente Ross and Amy Reynolds. The law of journalism and mass communication. Sixth Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc. 2018.

Watters, Jesse “Confronting Frazier.” BillOReilly.com, 2006, www.billoreilly.com/b/Confronting-Frazier/-643011088989176289.html. Accessed 15 November 2020.

 

What does it mean to be considered “libel-proof”?

Here is a homework assignment for my Media Organization Regulations class at Webster University. Each week we have a legal question to answer in the form of a short paper, as well as other writing assignments. Every once in a while I like to put one of the more interesting pieces here on my blog. Please keep in mind I am not an attorney or law student, I’m an Advertising and Marketing Communications major. Enjoy!

Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
7 November 2020

What does it mean to be considered “libel-proof”?

In order to win a libel case, a plaintiff must prove that a contested statement fulfills all of the elements of libel (Trager et al 149-166).

  1. The statement must purport to be a fact, that is, according to a dictionary, “a piece of information presented as having objective reality”, not an opinion statement (Trager et al 150).
  2. The statement must have been published, which consists of posting to the internet, printing in a periodical publication, or broadcasting over airwaves. Publishing includes mass media, but it not limited to only mass media. It is only necessary for one other person besides the subject and source to have seen the information in one of the above media channels in order for it to be considered published (Trager et al 150).
  3. The plaintiff must be identifiable as an individual or possibly in some cases a member of a small group. Identification is not necessarily limited to just using the person’s name (Trager et al 155).
  4. The content must defame the plaintiff, that is cause damage to their reputation (Trager et al 156).
  5. The plaintiff must prove that the allegation is false (Trager et al 160).
  6. The plaintiff must be able to show actual damage or harm (Trager et al 150).
  7. The defendant must be found to be at fault either by actual malice in defaming a public figure or the lower standard of negligence if the target of the defamatory statement is a private figure (Trager et al 163).

In most cases, libel law is presumed to help people protect their own good reputation, but in cases where the plaintiff’s reputation is already significantly damaged, the libel-proof plaintiff doctrine might be invoked in order to deny the plaintiff a finding of libel (Hudson 14-15).  For example, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled in one such case that if someone is a convicted murderer, they have been “judicially declared to be evil” and cannot be further damaged by aspersions upon their character (Hudson 15).  The libel-proof doctrine was further invoked in the same jurisdiction in order to negate the claims of the convicted assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., James Earl Ray, when he sought redress from the court for being portrayed in Time magazine as a thief and a drug dealer (Hudson 16).

Beyond Tennessee, Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione objected to being labeled as an adulterer even though he was openly a pornagrapher, but lost his case due to the libel-proof doctrine (Hudson 16), as did former MLB player Lenny Dykstra when he sued a publisher for portraying him as a racist in a ghost-written memoir by a former teammate (Dykstra 4, 18-19).

In Dykstra’s case, it was not his profession that reflected badly on his reputation, but his history of personal behavior.  Evidence was produced to show that he had long been considered “unsportsmanlike”, “shitty”, a “criminal”, a thief, a drug abuser, “racist”, “hateful”, an extortionist, “violent”, “abusive”, misogynistic, a “homophobe”, treacherous, a “sexual predator” and “one of baseball’s all-time thugs” (Dykstra 2-4, 6).

In finding against Dykstra’s claim, the defense invoked a couple of other points of libel law.  Firstly, the statements in question were “substantially true”.  In addition, the defense argued that the plaintiff cannot claim incremental harm because Dykstra’s reputation would likely be unchanged even if the allegations in the published book were demonstrated to be false.

If one considers the elements of a finding of libel, in the Dykstra case, the plaintiff lost because he was not able to prove that the statements about him were false, that his reputation was capable of being damaged and that he suffered actual harm (Dykstra 5).

 

Works Cited

Dykstra, Lenny vs. St. Martin’s Press LLC. 153676-2019. 2020. Print.

Hudson Jr., David L. “Shady Character.” Tennessee Bar Journal, vol. 52, no. 7, July 2016, pp. 14–17. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=116345329&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 5 November 2020.

Trager, Robert Susan Dente Ross and Amy Reynolds. The law of journalism and mass communication. Sixth Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc. 2018.

First Amendment and Bill of Rights Refresher

I’m currently in Media Organization Regulations class. That means I’m going to be writing about where media communications and the law intersect. As I have been doing since I started graduate school, if there is anything I think my blog readers might enjoy or find useful I’ll be publishing some of my assignments here. In our first assignment for this class, we were tasked to write about the First Amendment to the US Constitution. I needed some refresher reading on the First Amendment in order to write this, as I haven’t studied this kind of material in school for a LONG time.

The Bill Of Rights was added to the US Constitution immediately after ratification as a sort of compromise to reassure those who feared that a stronger central government would lead to the infringement of individual liberties. There were those who believed these rights were protected sufficiently in the individual state constitutions and therefore didn’t need to written out, and others who feared that writing them out would imply that the list was exclusive and implying there were no other rights (Thernstrom 177-178).

One thing I and probably others have to keep reminding myself of is that our form of government was founded on the premise that our constitution or government is not giving these rights to us, but is spelling out the rights we already have. That’s a profound difference in attitude than I frequently perceive from some people who are in government, campaigning to be in government, some media institutions and large corporations. What is your opinion on my perception?

“Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
25 October 2020

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, assembly, press and speech (Trager et al 9, Silverblatt 30). First Amendment rights to free speech are considered by most historians to have been initially intended to prohibit the restrictions that the American colonists feared would be established under British rule (Trager et al 56-57). Although actual licensing of presses was no longer practiced in the home country, punishment following the publishing or speaking of certain content did appear to be a method that could be used to suppress speech and ideas that those in power considered subversive (Trager et al 56-59). In colonial times up to the present day in the United States, the level of punishment for certain kinds of speech and the level of requirement to promote or allow the diversity of speech or ideas is constantly being tested and litigated (Trager et al 56-61). New technology and forms of media have caused the purpose and philosophy of free speech to be constantly re-evaluated (Trager et al 62-68, Baran and Davis 65).

Other than protecting speakers from unjust punishment, another purpose of the First Amendment was to ensure that the new country would develop in a climate where individuals would hear a diverse selection of ideas and then choose what ideas they found the most beneficial from a free “marketplace” (Silverblatt 129). In the United States, the idea of giving technocratic control of the media to the government was considered but rejected (Baran and Davis 62). With the rise of social media and their use as virtual public forums, corporations are trying now to take on the technocratic control of speech and ideas themselves (Baran and Davis 66). There is precedence in the law that private property used in the manner of a traditional public space can be required in some cases to allow “public gatherings and free expression” (Trager et al 82). What will the courts decide in the future about virtual public space that is owned by a corporation?

There is a distinction between “prior restraint” in which the government must approve the publication of content, and punishment after the fact for harm caused by certain kinds of speech (Trager et al, 57). Even with the First Amendment in place, both kinds of restraint on speech are sometimes allowed, but the necessity for prior restraint is much harder to prove in court (Trager et al, 64-67). Content neutral laws are more likely to withstand scrutiny (Trager et al, 68, 71), as are laws that restrict speech as little as possible in order to achieve what the government’s compelling interest is alleged to be (Trager et al, 71).

Although not intended to, the First Amendment could be seen to help protect individuals from being punished by private organizations and employers in a sense. Some states, cities and territories cite the First Amendment in laws that prohibit discrimination against employees for political speech and activities (Volokh). Usually though it is anti-discrimination laws inspired by the First Amendment that apply to a private employer, not the actual First Amendment (Freedom Of Speech…). Government employees are more directly affected (Freedom Of Speech…).”

I’m going to list here the complete Bill of Rights, according to the Bill of Rights Institute, because I and probably a lot of other people need a refresher (Bill of Rights of…).

1 – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

2- “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

3- “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

4- “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

5- “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

6- “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

7- “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

8- “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

9- “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

10- “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Now I’m going to quote extensively from our textbook, “The law of journalism and mass communication” (Trager et al 61). Following is a list of “Core Values of Free Speech”, which are often cited in Supreme Court decisions that have to do with free speech issues. For one of our assignments we had to make predictions about what new Supreme Court cases we might expect to see in the near future that have to do with the First Amendment. I was very impressed with this list of values derived from sources ranging in time from 1698-1996. You no doubt have your own ideas about what cases we can expect to see or what you would like to see. Are these the values you want to court to consider?

  • Individual liberty. The freedom of speech is deeply intertwined with fundamental natural rights. In this sense, free speech is an inalienable right.”
  • Self government. The freedom to discuss political candidates and policies and to render judgements is an essential cornerstone of responsible self-governance. The freedom of speech enables “the people” to pursue “democratic self determination”.”
  • Limited government power. Free speech is an “invaluable bulwark against tyranny.” The free speech of “the people” serves as a “check” on authoritarian rule and a limit to the abuse of power of a few.”
  • Attainment of truth. Free speech advances the “marketplace of ideas” to increase knowledge and the discovery of truth. By challenging “certain truth” and “received wisdom”, open public discussion allows a society to expand understanding.”
  • Safety valve. Free speech allows people to express problems and grievances before they escalate into violence. Except during the “worst of times”, free speech is a mechanism for “letting off steam” and helping to balance social stability and change, compromise and conflict, tolerance and hate.”
  • It’s own end. Free speech, like clean air, or beauty, or justice, is an end in and of itself, a valuable good and a cherished right.”

Works Cited

Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.

“Bill of Rights of the United States of America (1791).” Bill of Rights Institute, 2020, billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/. Accessed 26 October 2020.

“Freedom Of Speech In The Workplace: The First Amendment Revisited.” Thomson Reuters, 2020, corporate.findlaw.com/law-library/freedom-of-speech-in-the-workplace-the-first-amendment-revisited.html. Accessed Day Month 2020.

Silverblatt, Art et al. Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Fourth Edition. Praeger, 2014.

Thernstrom, Stephan. A History of the American People: Volume One: To 1877. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.

Trager, Robert Susan Dente Ross and Amy Reynolds. The law of journalism and mass communication. Sixth Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc. 2018.

Volokh, Eugene, “Laws Protecting Private Employees’ Speech and Political Activity Against Employer Retaliation: Covering a Wide Range of Speech.” Reason Foundation, 2020, reason.com/2020/07/26/laws-protecting-private-employees-speech-and-political-activity-against-employer-retaliation-covering-a-wide-range-of-speech/. Accessed 25 October 2020.

I’ve started a Pinterest Board for Media and Law references and resources. I will likely cite some of these during this class and read others for background information. Enjoy!
Media Analysis – Communications and the Law

There are some resources I’m not able to link to for whatever reason on Pinterest that I need for my homework. My purpose for putting them in Pinterest is because it’s an easy way to keep my resources in one place. However, for the ones I can’t put there, I’ll start collecting some here so that I know where they are and can get to them fast since I have linked the relevant Pinterest board to this article.

Other First Amendment Related Links

Winston84 – online directory of suppressed content.

Here is a link to the Senate Hearing on Section 230 that we are currently studying in my class.