Suppose student X fails in Professor A’s class. X takes professor A’s picture from the university website and then puts up posters around campus with the picture along with offensive comments. He refers to the individual as a professor but doesn’t disclose his name, class, or any other personal information. As a result, Professor A experiences severe depression and is admitted to a hospital. What are X’s liabilities?

I understand that there is a case of defamation here. What I’m not sure is whether there is also a data privacy case in this particular scenario.

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    What specific jurisdiction do you have in mind? what type of offensive comments? Mar 30, 2019 at 10:45
  • Some offensive comments are illegal in of themselves in some jurisdictions. Like, wrongfully claiming someone committed a crime. As an example of such a claim: in Germany and Austria, it's illegal to claim the holocaust did not happen, if X claims (wrongfully) "This Professor denies the holocaust" it would be seen as a very serious case of defamation and indeed would be most likely prosecuted by the state attorney.
    – Trish
    Aug 21, 2020 at 19:46

1 Answer 1


What are X’s liabilities?

Based on the information given, there is neither liability for defamation nor for data privacy.

I understand that there is a case of defamation here.

That is inaccurate. Offensive comments could lead to a viable claim of defamation only if they contain enough factual connotation that is false and tends to harm the professor's reputation. Actionability depends on whether (1) those statements of fact lead to provable losses; or (2) the law recognizes them as defamatory in and of themselves, that is, regardless of the context (under U.S. defamation law, this is known as defamation per se).

If comments are truthful or they veritably constitute statements of opinion, they are not actionable under defamation law.

The professor's "severe depression" itself does not trigger actionability.

What I’m not sure is whether There is a data privacy case in this particular scenario.

The university's publication of the professor's picture preempts any actionability for other's act of posting that picture elsewhere. In other words, since there was no privacy to begin with, there is no privacy to protect.

  • You haven’t addressed the copyright in the picture
    – Dale M
    Mar 30, 2019 at 21:56
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    @DaleM The OP asked about privacy, not copyright. Mar 30, 2019 at 22:11
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    The OP asked what the liabilities were - copyright violation creates liabilities
    – Dale M
    Mar 31, 2019 at 0:34
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    @DaleM "copyright violation creates liabilities" ... and one could expand to cover all imaginable liabilities that may derive (intentional infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium, and so forth), but the OP's question unequivocally refers to defamation and data privacy. Mar 31, 2019 at 1:42

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