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False Light – Letting it all Hang Out

Girls, women – do you have a muffin top? Guys, that’s the roll of fat that spills over a woman’s jeans that make her look like a muffin. Or, more accurately, when her waist looks like the top of a muffin.

Women, do you like to be told that you have a muffin top? If you said “yes,” that would be a first for me. Most women I know would find the comment to be highly offensive (especially if they have a muffin top). Their response would be something to the effect of “why would you say something like that?” or “who the hell do you think you are?”

Now imagine that you are a teenager and the Los Angeles Times declares you to be part of the muffin top club in an article titled “Letting it all Hang Out” featuring a picture of you wearing hip hugger jeans with your waist spilling over the top. Your friends tease you mercilessly – especially your friends with muffin tops. What can you do?

Enter the false light branch of the right of privacy. You can sue for false light when there is (1) a publication, (2) of information that showed you in a false light, (3) that is highly offensive to a reasonable person, (4) with knowledge of, or reckless disregard of, the falsity (if the person suing is a public figure) …. or … that the defendant was negligent in determining whether a false impression would be created (if a private person) and (5) that caused harm.

Unfortunately for our embarrassed, plump teenager, the highly offensive story is true. Because she does have a muffin top she cannot successfully sue for false light invasion of privacy. That said, it is always wise to be aware of the context of a photo in a story and use caution when adding a caption.

In my next post I’ll talk about “The Case of the Plucky Porker.”

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Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.  

  • Privacy , Privacy - False Light
  • Jan 13, 2013

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