Media Law Handbook



2. What is the historical basis for invasion of privacy claims?

1. Invasion of Privacy

In the United States, journalists are subject to being sued for four types of claims, which, although legally distinct, commonly are grouped under the term “invasion of privacy.”  They are:

  • The unauthorized appropriation of a person’s name or likeness for commercial purposes.
  • Intrusion into a person’s solitude.
  • The publication of truthful but embarrassing private facts about a person.
  • Portrayal of a person in a “false light.”

Invasion of privacy claims can arise out of every facet of a news operation, from newsgathering to advertising to the publication of editorial cartoons.  Fortunately, the N.C. Supreme Court has decided that only the first two types – appropriation and intrusion – are recognized as part of the common law of this state; consequently, N.C. journalists are less exposed to privacy claims than their peers in other states.

It's important to remember, however, that our courts’ jurisdiction ends at the state line; if you publish or disseminate information outside North Carolina about a person who is a citizen of another state you are potentially subject to invasion of privacy claims filed in less favorable jurisdictions.  This concern is particularly relevant to information distributed online or via social media.  

This chapter reviews the four types of invasion of privacy claims, with emphasis on the two types that are recognized by the N.C. courts.  This chapter also discusses claims for the intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. Neither is among the claims grouped under "invasion of privacy," but they are closely related, and plaintiffs often assert emotional distress claims in conjunction with privacy claims.

2. What is the historical basis for invasion of privacy claims?

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