California Employees Defamation Blog
An Alternative to Defamation: False Light Invasion of Privacy
A close ally to defamation is a claim for false light invasion of privacy. While both claims are designed to protect people from offensive facts stated about them, the difference is that defamation concerns statements of fact that are actually false, whereas false light is about false implications of fact. In other words, false light is more about the impression created by the publication rather than its veracity. False light may be more appropriate than a claim for defamation in cases where there is no direct false statement, but there is at least a publication of information that leaves a false impression that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
Here are some examples of what courts have held to constitute false light publications:
- In M.G. v. Time Warner, Inc. (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 623, stories about the coach of an athletic team who was convicted of child molestation also included a photograph of a Little League team that the child molester had coached. The Court of Appeal held that the individuals in the photograph who were not molested by the coach may be able to prove a false light claim because “the article and the program could reasonably be interpreted as reporting that some or all the players in the photograph had been molested,” which was a false implication. Id. at 636.
- In Solano v. Playgirl Magazine (9 th Cir. 2002) 292 F.3d 1078, the plaintiff celebrity was featured on the cover of Playgirl Magazine, which typically contained sexually suggestive nude pictures of men. The 9 th Circuit held that the cover, which featured the celebrity’s bare-chest photograph and various suggestive headlines, would falsely imply that he voluntarily posed for and appeared nude inside the magazine.
- In Gill v. Curtis Publishing Co. (1952) 38 Cal.2d 273, the Ladies Home Journal published an article condemning “love at first sight” as being based on nothing more than sexual attraction. The author said such love was “wrong” and would lead to divorce. The article featured a photo of a couple, with the caption, “[p]ublicized as glamorous, desirable, ‘love at first sight’ is a bad risk.” Although the journal did not actually say the couple was engaged in the “wrong” kind of love, the couple, who did not know that their picture had been taken, prevailed by proving the magazine created a false impression that the couple was behaving wrongly in love.
This is not an exhaustive list but simply illustrative of what some courts have considered to befalse light publications. Claims for false light invasion of privacy are not mutually exclusive.Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to recover damages for the harms caused by both.