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John C. P. Goldberg & Benjamin C. Zipursky, A Tort for the Digital Age: False Light Invasion of Privacy Reconsidered, 73 DePaul Law Review (Forthcoming).

Abstract: In his famous 1960 article, William Prosser identified four privacy torts: Disclosure of Private Facts, False Light Invasion of Privacy, Appropriation of Likeness, and Intrusion Upon Seclusion. Although each was recognized in the Second Torts Restatement and by various courts, the false light tort seems to have foundered. Indeed, starting in the late 1980s, prominent courts rejected it and many academics have expressed grave misgivings about it. Often interpreted as a kind of ‘defamation lite,’ the tort seems to its critics an ill-defined wrong that clever lawyers invoke to evade important limitations on defamation liability. Drawing from case law and an important but underappreciated body of prior scholarship, this article elucidates the distinctive content and role of false light as an authentic invasion-of- privacy tort and explains why its recognition is especially important in our digital world. To appreciate its value requires, first and foremost, grasping that its closest tort sibling is not defamation, but instead public disclosure. Like that tort and unlike defamation, false light applies only to a subset of subject matters – those that are genuinely private and are not newsworthy – and only when highly offensive images or messages pertaining to the plaintiff are widely disseminated to the public. In short, as Melville Nimmer once noted, the sound judgment undergirding false light is this: if causing humiliation or grave offense by disseminating accurate depictions or accounts of private matters is actionable, it should be no less actionable when the putative representations are false. In an era of deepfakes and other privacy-invading misrepresentations, courts should embrace the tort of false light.