1890 — Harvard Law Review publishes “The Right to Privacy.” 4 Harvard
Law Review, pp. 193-220. Authors Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis (the
future Supreme Court justice) state their case for invasion of privacy as a
legal tort. More than 100 years later, privacy experts cite that article as the
cornerstone for all privacy law.
1893 — Corliss v. Walker, 57 Fed. Rep. 434. Federal Judge LeBaron Colt
rejects claims that a biography of a deceased inventor constitutes an invasion
of privacy in what is considered the first federal privacy case. Colt says that
recognizing the right to privacy would restrict freedom of the press.
1903 — New York passes a state privacy law that prohibits the unauthorized
use of an individual’s name or picture for advertising or trade purposes.
1905 — Pavesich v. New England Life Ins., 122 Ga. 190. Georgia
becomes the first state in which a court legally recognizes the right to
1908 — Moser v. Press Pub. Co., 109 N.Y.S. 963. A New York
court rules that the use of articles and photographs in a newspaper doesn’t
qualify under state law as a “trade purpose” and denies a man’s claim that the
publication of his name and picture violated his privacy.
1928 — Brandeis offers concept of “right to be let alone” to the U.S. Supreme Court in dissent in
Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438, a case involving the wiretapping of a
1960 — California Law Review publishes William Prosser’s article
“Privacy.” 48 California Law Review, pp. 383-423. Prosser postulates that
the concept of invasion of privacy is actually an assemblage of four related but
distinct torts: intrusion, public disclosure of private facts, false light and
appropriation of character for commercial use.
1967 — Time Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374. The Supreme Court, in its
first privacy case involving the news media, rules against a family claiming
that a photo layout in Life magazine invaded their privacy. The court
determines that if a plaintiff files a false-light claim arising out of an issue
of public interest, he or she is required to prove that the defendant published
the article with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth.
Uses the standard adopted in 1964 in New York Times v. Sullivan, 376
1974 — Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Co., 419 U.S. 245. The
Supreme Court determines that The Plain Dealer of Cleveland knowingly or recklessly published falsehoods about the widow of man killed when an Ohio River bridge collapsed.
1974 — Gertz v. Welch, 418 U.S. 323. The Supreme Court abandons the
actual-malice standard for private figures, saying plaintiff didn’t have to
prove that a magazine acted recklessly or knowingly in publishing falsehoods
against him. The decision frees states to develop their own standards of
defamation for private figures.
1975 — Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469. The Supreme Court
overturns an award for damages imposed against a television station which
broadcast the name of a rape-murder victim.
1977 — Oklahoma Publishing Co. v. Oklahoma County District Court, 430
U.S. 308. The Supreme Court finds unconstitutional a state court’s pretrial
order enjoining the media from publishing the name or photograph of an
11-year-old boy in connection with a juvenile proceeding that the media
1979 — Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S. 97. The Supreme
Court overturns a state law forbidding newspapers from publishing the name of
any youth charged as a juvenile offender.
1988 — Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46. The Supreme Court
holds that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who sued Hustler alleging intentional
infliction of emotional distress, has to prove that the publication contained a
false statement of fact published with knowledge or with reckless disregard as
to its truth.
1989 — Florida Star v. B.J.F., 491 U.S. 524. The Supreme Court strikes
down a jury award against a newspaper which violated a state law forbidding
publication of the name of a sexual-offense victim. But the court majority
acknowledges that privacy concerns, in a similar case with different facts,
might outweigh press rights.