Today’s legal squib: False Light

On the topic of general recent interest to readers in the Japan-side expat blogosphere, I want to point out that, in American common law, there is a tort (personal harm) that is often considered to be defamation, but actually stands as its own thing: false light.

The second Restatement of Torts has this to say:

652E. Publicity Placing Person in False Light

One who gives publicity to a matter concerning another that places the other before the public in a false light is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if

(a) the false light in which the other was placed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and

(b) the actor had knowledge of or acted in reckless disregard as to the falsity of the publicized matter and the false light in which the other would be placed.

In some jurisdictions, true information that has been portrayed in a harmful way may satisfy the elements of that state’s false light tort. (Clearly, outright false information, i.e. “judge orders closure of blog”, can be both defamation and false light.) Similarly “invasion of privacy” in the Restatement version does not mean that the person cannot have some measure of public recognition.