Suppose a celebrity digs his nose or scratches his private part because of sudden itch or performs some unsightly act in public. Someone takes his picture/video and uploads onto internet without his permission. The celebrity is shamed in public. By depicting the celebrity in an unflattering light, his value as a celebrity is diminished.

Can the celebrity sue for damages since the pictures/video were taken without his permission? His privacy has also been violated.

Assume celebrity is American.

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    I suppose you'd have to specify a location, but I would think not seeing how many such photos are seen in tabloid newspapers... – colmde Nov 21 at 8:25
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    Do you mean "in public" as in a public place or "in public" as in their public facing function. There is a difference between sitting in a public cafe with a friend and walking over the red carpet at the premiere of your newest movie. – Darkwing Nov 21 at 14:46
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    That depends on the jurisdiction. In some countries there is a kind of property right of images of yourself. See for example de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recht_am_eigenen_Bild_(Deutschland) for the situation in Germany. Typically celebrities have less protection though and also if the person is the main target of the picture. – Trilarion Nov 21 at 15:35
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    "Can the celebrity sue for damages" Yes- all they need is a lawyer who will take their money and start the proceedings. "Can the celebrity win" Is the question that everyone is answering. – UKMonkey Nov 21 at 15:55
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    Hello and welcome to the site. Please edit this to specify a jurisdiction. – curiousdannii Nov 22 at 5:49
up vote 34 down vote accepted

As per this question & answer, in the US there is no expectation of privacy in public places (not to be confused with private places where public is allowed e.g. supermarkets). Photos taken in public belong to the photo taker and he/she is free to use them in whatever way. No privacy is violated here.

The fact that the person whose photo was taken was a celebrity does not change anything. It would have been completely their fault to expect privacy in a public place and behave rashly.

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    @user768421 taking photos will be allowed like in public unless expressly prohibited by the place owner. – Greendrake Nov 21 at 8:29
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    I have proposed an edit to make the answer scoped to the US. In other countries, there is expectation of privacy. See the comment from Trilarion on the question: law.stackexchange.com/questions/33692/… – ANeves Nov 21 at 16:42
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    @user768421 Restaurants count as "in public" for these purposes, unless the celebrity is at a private event in the restaurant where public access is restricted. If you are in a place that is open to the public (such as a restaurant), then you are in public. – only_pro Nov 21 at 17:32
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    The last paragraph is not correct in many US jurisdictions. For example, the fact that the person is a celebrity matters to the injury prong of the four step test to determine if the use violates California's common law right of publicity. The first paragraph is also misleading because it doesn't point out that commercial use is restricted in many jurisdictions by statute. – David Schwartz Nov 21 at 19:23
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    @DPenner1 From here: "Generally, a model release is only required if the way the photo is published makes it seem that the person in the photo endorses the product, service, or organization." "Whatever way" did not mean to include deceiving anyone into thinking that the way was endorsed by the person on the photo. – Greendrake Nov 22 at 18:26

If you're talking about the United States, the celebrity will lose this case:

  • Being mildly embarrassed does not give rise to damages
  • The First Amendment allows us to gather and disseminate information, including photographic information;
  • The right to privacy does not cover the things you do in public, in front of cameras.
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    To the best of my knowledge, the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against government reprisals for the content of speech, not private reprisals, such as civil lawsuits. Or social media shaming mobs. Am I mistaken? – John Bollinger Nov 21 at 16:01
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    @JohnBollinger — you are mistaken. A lawsuit is still carried out under the laws of the state or the country, laws which must respect freedom of speech, religion, and so on. I cannot (successfully) sue you for being Jewish or for not being Jewish, for voting Republican or voting Democrat. Purely private actions — "social media shaming", boycotts — have no such limits. – Malvolio Nov 21 at 16:10
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    How, then, is defamation law possible? I think the correct analysis has to be about whether there are any actionable damages, not about whether any such damages arose from speech. – John Bollinger Nov 21 at 16:14
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    @JohnBollinger Because defamation is when you intentionally cause harm through speech, and lie to do it. It's an extension of the "fire in the theater" logic. – Nic Hartley Nov 21 at 17:25
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    @NicHartley The "fire in a theater" logic is that you're not making an argument or conveying information for people to consider but instead provoking an immediate reaction with no opportunity for thought or discussion. Defamation is in no way an extension of that logic because defamation often does consist of advancing arguments and claims for deliberate, rational consideration. – David Schwartz Nov 21 at 19:27

Just because a person expects to lose a case may not stop them vexatiously suing you as a discouragement / punishment - if they can afford a big legal bill and you can't, just the threat of a big court case can be too much of a risk for a lot of people.

The UK courts in particular have been used for libel tourism as documented in Private Eye magazine - and they know plenty about libel!

Yes. Anyone can sue anyone for any reason.

There is no expectation that they will succeed at their suit, it could be a completely frivolous waste of time and money.

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    Welcome to StackExchange. You could cut and paste this answer to almost any legal question, and it wouldn't be wrong. But what makes a good answer here is more specificity, i.e. Things that pertain to this situation in particular. – Harper Nov 21 at 21:32

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