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.

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3 comments

  1. Christopher Savoie (@cjsavoie) · February 28, 2013

    I believe the tort is also called “invasion of privacy” in certain jurisdictions…for good reason. By either name it is the same tort with basically the same elements with certain variations in definitions of conduct, exceptions for some information and differences in burden of proof which vary from state to state. Kind of like outrageous conduct and intentional infliction.

  2. Christopher Savoie (@cjsavoie) · February 28, 2013

    BTW, a very interesting trial court opinion involving this very tort in TN, with the Court adopting Dendrite… http://www.citmedialaw.org/blog/2009/swartz-v-does-tennessee-court-says-couple-entitled-unmask-anonymous-blogger

    • hoofin · February 28, 2013

      I used to think the actual Japan Probe author was a fellow American, using anonymity to dodge federal taxes on his Google ads in Japa—with Nicholson and Eido Inoue / Havill simply providing some background material for content. (Both of these fellows are expert at using search engines to dig up available legal filings and whatnot, which at least one of them offers around to other Japan-side bloggers.)

      Now, I’m really curious to know who the real Japan Probe author is. It certainly isn’t 24 people, as offered on the website.

      Chris Johnson focused on the two in his recent online reporting. There is a third person involved, though. Not sure what nationality and how they can be reached.

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