Fragile Merchandise: A Comparative Analysis of the Privacy Rights for Public Figures
111 Pages Posted: 5 May 2009 Last revised: 13 May 2014
Date Written: April 28, 2009
Over a century after Warren and Brandeis first presented the right to U.S. jurists for their consideration, privacy has become a central player in U.S. law. But nations around the world, in particular the common and civil law nations of Europe that share similar legal cultures with the United States, are grappling with how best to strike a balance between the competing rights of privacy and freedom of expression - both of which are critical to the functioning of democratic society. Existing literature has not fully drawn from this reservoir of international experience to inform the debate about U.S. privacy rights. This Article addresses this omission by using comparative case studies from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany to analyze areas of convergence and divergence in privacy rights. The focus of each case study will be the right of privacy afforded to public figures, particularly those at the cusp of the classic definition, i.e., involuntary or temporary public figures. Though some semblance of a bright-line rule has evolved for voluntary public figures, involuntary public figures in the United States are accorded spotty protection varying by jurisdiction. Lacking guiding Supreme Court precedent, this has led to divergent practice especially regarding the definition of "public interest," which is fundamental to defining the limits of freedom of expression. Thus, this Article draws from the comparative analysis to build a proposal for a clarifying definition of the public interest that helps delineate privacy rights, as well as arguing for the adoption of a graduated structure of privacy protections for public figures along the lines of the German and European Court of Human Rights models.
Keywords: Privacy, comparative law, public figure, media, first amendment
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