I was just mulling over the possible implications of the news item I posted earlier from the Seattle Times that privacy claims against Michael Moore’s use of someone’s likeness and voice without their permission had been thrown out by the court under Washington’s new anti-SLAPP law.
Although I think most readers of PogoWasRight.org are likely to be for anti-SLAPP laws, as the plaintiff’s lawyer is quoted as saying, the lawsuit wasn’t an attempt to chill Moore’s speech on an issue of public concern. It was reportedly an attempt to protect his privacy and his property.
So let’s look at that decision again before we cheer too loudly. Do we really want to cheer that someone’s private video or property or likeness can just be used by others without their consent? The copyright claims have not been thrown out by the court, but then we are left with the uncomfortable, but all-too-familiar, situation where copyright has more protection than privacy.
The media have long included pictures or video of private citizens in public situations as part of news coverage, and we all generally accept the diminished privacy rights in those situations, but this wasn’t news coverage. It was a commercial film. Yes, it was intended to make a point, but does that give a film maker the right to ignore privacy? In this case, the footage seemingly didn’t reveal anything deeply personal or embarrassing, but where is the line?
So… was the judge correct in applying the anti-SLAPP law, and will we see anti-SLAPP laws abused to justify ignoring individuals’ privacy? What do you think?