Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374 (1967)

2012-09-16 13:16:25

Escaped convicts took the Hill family hostage in their home but later released them unharmed. Subsequently, a novel was written depicting considerable violence. The novel was made into a play and Life magazine (a subdivision of Time) wrote a story about the play, complete with pictures from scenes staged in the former Hill home, suggesting that the play was an accurate reenactment. N.Y. Civil Rights }} 50-51 provide for liability when the name or portrait of a living person is used for advertising purposes without consent. Under the statute, the New York courts granted the family damages for a false portrayal of an experience they never suffered. Time, Inc. claimed that the courts’ application of the statute denied it constitutional rights to freedom of speech and press.

On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court, per Justice Brennan, held that absent proof that the publisher knew of the falsities or acted in reckless disregard of the truth, no liability would attach. The dissent argued that a weaker standard should suffice to satisfy constitutional protections. The significance of the case is that it expanded the discussion of privacy into the constitutional arena, although it did not elevate it above freedom of speech or the press. Also, it extended the New York Times v. Sullivan (376 U.S. 254, 1964) malice standard, which had previously only been applied in defamation cases. A further interesting historical footnote was that Richard Nixon was the attorney representing the Hill family in the Supreme Court.


References and Further Reading

  • Keck, Matthew C., Cookies, the Constitution and the Common Law: A Framework for the Right of Privacy on the Internet, Alb. L. J. Sci. & Tech. 13 (2002): 83.
  • Stohl, Matthew, False Light Invasion of Privacy in Docudramas: The Oxymoron which Must Be Solved, Akron L. Rev. 35 (2002): 251.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)