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When Does Freedom of Speech Go too Far: Right to Sue for Invasion of Privacy

If something is frequently discussed in public, does that warrant posting a video of it online for everyone with access to a modem to see? According to Terry G. Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, it does not.

Bollea has talked frequently and publicly about his sex life, but he apparently feels that talking about something and showing it are too very different things. While it has been his choice to talk openly about his sex life, it was not his choice to post online a sex tape involving himself and Heather Clem, the wife of Bollea’s former friend.

The news site Gawker received the video footage from an anonymous source and posted clips of it on its website, along with a full description of everything that happens in the full 30 minutes of video. The events were allegedly recorded via a security camera and without Bollea’s knowledge or consent.

Bollea blames his former friend, who had his name legally changed to Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Clem had the tape made and kept it in his office. He claims the tape was stolen from his office and no one seems to know how it got into Gawker’s hands.

Bollea has filed claims for $100 million against Gawker, claiming invasion of privacy, emotional distress, and punitive damages to discourage others from engaging in similar practices. He claims if the jury does not side with him and punish Gawker for distributing clips of the sex tape online, it will mean the end of privacy for everyone.

Conversely, Gawker claims if Bollea is allowed to prevail in his lawsuit, it will mean the end of freedom of the press.

The freedom of speech and freedom of the press are revered as two of the most sacred rights of our country. But the right to personal privacy is also important and protecting all three rights has created a proverbial tightrope the courts have long had to walk. The Supreme Court has never said specifically where the line between privacy and freedom of speech lies and now the Internet has blurred that line even further.

In general, public figures have been less likely to win legal battles over breaches of personal privacy and defamation. The law values public discussion of public figures because that is generally considered to be in the best interests of the public. This makes the most sense when the term “public figure” relates to politicians who create and vote on the legislature that govern our country. It doesn’t make as much sense to apply it to actors, musicians, and other entertainers, and even less so when it comes to their sex lives.

Gawker is claiming that by publicly discussing the details of his sex life, Bollea himself has positioned the topic as a matter of public discussion. As such, the news site claims that by posting clips of the sex tape online, Gawker was simply taking part in the already public discussion.

Bollea argues that, although Hulk Hogan is a public figure and household name, that does not mean that Terry G. Bollea the person has forfeited his right to privacy.

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If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business on line at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at (877) 990-4990 or online by filling out our contact us form.