Matthew Heller describes a lawsuit that he seems to think should fail on First Amendment grounds. What do you think?
A new publication in Lincoln, Neb., milks mug shots for humor. But a teenager whose arrest photo appeared in Cuffed doesn’t see the funny side of it and has sued the publisher for misappropriating his image.
The case could be closely watched by other publications around the country -– both print and online –- that have capitalized on the public’s morbid interest in mug shots. “Mug-shot galleries are increasingly popular features on newspaper websites,” Time magazine recently noted, with big dailies such as New York’s Newsday and the Chicago Tribune catching onto the trend.
Zachary Krull, 19, alleges Cuffed is liable for invading his privacy under a Nebraska publicity rights law that applies to the unauthorized use of a person’s “name, picture, portrait, or personality for advertising or commercial purposes.” The monthly newspaper published his mug shot from a Jan. 11, 2010 arrest in its February edition.
Nebraska law “forbids this type of publication of Plaintiff’s name and picture,” says the lawsuit, which names Cuffed Paper, L.L.C., and its registered agent, Dustin Hitchler, as defendants.
Cuffed, which launched in December, sells for $1 in 20 locations around Lincoln. In a statement attributed to Hitchler in a Lincoln Journal Star article published Feb. 21 –- four days before Krull filed the suit –- he said the monthly paper “is a business endeavor and for entertainment purposes only.”
Other mug-shot publishers have made clear that their purpose is to inform the community about crime. Nevertheless, Cuffed should still enjoy the full protections of the First Amendment because the paper –- even if sold for profit -– is noncommercial speech.
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