Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal


In Time, Inc. v. Hill, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court held that proof of actual malice was required for a plaintiff to prevail in a false light invasion of privacy suit resulting from publication of a matter of public interest. Seven years later in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., the Court repudiated the matter-of-public interest standard in defamation actions in favor of a standard focusing on the status ofthe plaintiff. Courts and commentators began speculating on whether the Court in Gertz had, in effect, overturned Hill sub silentio. Analysis of more than forty false light opinions handed down since Gertz demonstrates that significant confusion exists in this area of law, not only as to the appropriate fault standard to be applied, but also as to the proper conceptual definition of false light. The authors conclude that false light must be defined as a derivative of the related privacy tort of disclosure of private facts, not as a tort indistinguishable from defamation, and, therefore, the Hill matter- of-public-interest standard should continue to be used to determine when proof of actual malice is required in false light cases.