Person A's life is a soap opera. He got tricked in to paying child support for someone else's children by a woman who married, then ditched him. He was then kicked out of his condo by his adopted daughter's boyfriend, who's a drug dealer. He got rolled by a prostitute in Las Vegas, etc., etc.

Person B created a website that shines a spotlight on this individual, repeating all these provably true stories. The catch: Person A is not a "public personage."

Person B presumably couldn't be charged with libel, since all of the charges are true. However, he is tarnishing a private individual's reputation. What crime(s) would this constitute in the U.S.?

  • 2
    Are they making money off of it? If so it's called jounalism. Nov 27, 2020 at 14:20
  • If that's the case, maybe I should take a cue from Person B. ;) Nov 27, 2020 at 14:41
  • This is a mater of state law in the US, and the laws vary widely in different states. Which state does Person A live in? Person B? Is person A's reputation being damaged in other states? Nov 27, 2020 at 15:57

1 Answer 1


This would not be a crime in any US state to the best of my knowledge. In some, but far from all, US states, there is a tort known as "Improper disclosure of private facts". That tort makes it actionable to publish true but embarrassing facts about a person, when they were not public. There are various limits on exactly when such a tort applies, and these are not the same in all states that allow such an action. Most states that allow such a suit limit it to cases where the disclosure would be clearly offensive to a reasonable person, or some similar limit.

This is one of several torts often grouped under "invasion of privacy". They share some aspects with the law of defamation, but are different in significant ways. They are newer in law than most other torts, and have been controversial. Different states have adopted them differently, if at all.

See The Right to Privacy (1995) by Caroline Kennedy and Ellen Alderman (ISBN 978-0679744344; 432 pages) for detailed coverage of the history of these torts, and discussions of leading cases. Of course, this will not cover any cases since 1995, but the book thoroughly covers the subject as of that date, and is very well-written in my view. I own a copy.

See also the Wikipedia article Privacy laws of the United States, particularly the section " Public disclosure of private facts".

If Person B is exploiting the name, likeness, or personal identity of Person A for commercial advantage without permission or consent, that might well violate Washington's law on the Right of Publicity, see Wash. Rev. Code § 63.60.010-080 (2012)) and this Q&A.

According to this site the state of Washington does recognize a tort of “Public disclosure of private facts”. The site describes a few cases under this tort, but none seem very close to the situation described in the question. The site says that the essential element of this tort in WA is:

Publication of the private affairs of another where the matter publicized would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.

That means that it is ultimately up to a judge or jury whether any particular situation qualifies for damages.

according to to Data Guidance the invasion of privacy torts were upheld by the Washington Supreme Court in Reid v. Pierce County, 136 Wn.2d 195, 205, 961 P.2d 333 (1998) and the Private facts tort in Fisher v. State Department of Health, 125 Wn. App. 869, 106 P.3d 836 (Wash. Ct. App. 2005). However, that case concerned an action by a governmental agency, not a private actor, and the decision was that no invasion of privacy occurred in that case.

Washington law RCW 42.56.050 says:

A person's "right to privacy," "right of privacy," "privacy," or "personal privacy," as these terms are used in this chapter, is invaded or violated only if disclosure of information about the person: (1) Would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (2) is not of legitimate concern to the public.

Person A would need to consult a lawyer (or research the law) to determine if the specific publication was actionable under the laws of the state where Person A resides, or under the laws of some other state where person A might have standing to sue.

  • Nice answer. This particular case would be in Washington State, by the way. Nov 27, 2020 at 16:19
  • Could the acts described constitute harassment or something similar?
    – phoog
    Nov 27, 2020 at 20:43
  • @David Blomstrom Additional WA-specific sources and cases cited, more to come Nov 27, 2020 at 23:47
  • Awesome! Very interesting stuff. Nov 28, 2020 at 11:39

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