When people decide to videotape or photograph their intimate, “private” moments, what happens if those tapes or images are published, distributed or made public without permission? What if they are stolen by a third party and make their way onto the Internet?
Has that person’s legal right to privacy been violated? What course of action can they take? And how does this apply to celebrities versus everyday folks like you and me?
Those are just a few of the numerous, interesting questions highlighted by recent high-profile lawsuits dealing with invasion of privacy.
Earlier this month, actor Verne Troyer (better known as “Mini-Me” from the “Austin Powers” movies) sued his ex-girlfriend for several million dollars after he claimed she released parts of an intimate tape between the two of them without his consent.
Does he have a case? FOX News Channel’s Megyn Kelly tackled this question during a segment of “Kelly’s Court” last week.
Kelly: He’s alleging to release it amounts to an intentional infliction of emotional distress. Is that not a slam-dunk for him? Two lovers engaging in sex acts on a camera in their bedroom and one goes and releases it to the media? How is that not intentional infliction of emotional distress?
Inevitably – celebrity or no celebrity – Troyer has a reasonable expectation of privacy. And more importantly in this case, he has a common law right to profit from his name and likeness.
Therefore, Troyer’s lawsuit deals largely with an area of privacy law known as “appropriation.” Under this course of action, he must only prove that his name, likeness or identity was intentionally used by his ex-girlfriend without his consent for her own benefit.
If he does that, he will win his suit or, more likely, force a large settlement.
As Kelly noted, Troyer’s video is one of many celebrity sex tapes or risqué photos that have been released of late. Recently, an Internet scandal involving Miley Cyrus and a few “raunchy” photos allegedly lifted from her page on the social networking site MySpace has left the Disney star in a precarious situation. The anonymous individual who reportedly hacked images of the scantily clad 15-year-old has already leaked a few shots — causing Cyrus considerable headaches — and has threatened to release more.
Cyrus shrugged it off and tried to continue on with her life. But that may not be the best approach. Cases like hers don’t just go away. And if she expects this situation to “sort itself out,” she could be setting herself up for continued damage.
Whereas Troyer had a claim that his likeness was misappropriated, Cyrus has a good argument for a wrongful intrusion of her privacy. If she can prove that the defendant intentionally pried into her private communications and caused her serious emotional distress and/or seriously harmed her reputation, then not only will she stop this person from releasing any more damaging images, but she might also win a hefty settlement. Not that she needs it.
THE REST OF US
For those of us who aren’t celebrities (not yet, anyway), it is still possible to suffer an invasion of privacy. In addition to the two examples in the Troyer and Cyrus cases, we are much more likely to be harmed by a third area of privacy law, the publicizing of private affairs.
In that scenario, a plaintiff must prove the defendant made public (to a large number of people) a private matter that is “offensive to a reasonable person” and is of no legitimate public concern.
The best way to deal with an invasion of privacy is to consult with legal council the moment you feel you have been wronged. With the rise of the Internet, it is apparent that cases like these are no longer exclusive to celebrities. Every citizen, not just the rich and famous, has rights, and we all have an interest in seeing to it that those rights are protected.