The legal term "invasion of privacy" refers primarily to a person's right to keep his or her life private and free from the intrusion of others. It is often associated with a public figure's right to be left alone by the media, although many public aspects of a celebrity's life are not protected. Invasion of privacy charges are usually presented in a civil lawsuit against an organization that has crossed a perceived line into a celebrity or other person's private life, or have used his or her likeness or name in an unauthorized public manner. It would be more likely that a national tabloid would face an invasion of privacy lawsuit than a private citizen.
Modern invasion of privacy laws essentially protect people in four different ways: intrusion of solitude, public disclosure of private facts, false light, and appropriation. The media is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech, as long as the published or broadcast material does not violate personal privacy and is either verifiable as true or presented as an opinion, clearly not a statement of fact. This condition is why many such lawsuits do not prevail in court. The defendant can always claim the information was presented as a hypothetical or speculative piece, and not obtained through any invasion of privacy.
The "intrusion of solitude" claim in an invasion of privacy lawsuit applies to an actual physical or electronic penetration of a person's private home or other personal space. If a person was undressing at home, for example, and someone filmed this without telling the person, he or she could sue for invasion of privacy. The same would hold true for any attempt to break into someone's home to obtain embarrassing or private materials. When a burglar allegedly broke into the home of actress Pamela Anderson and stole a private home video, for example, she could legally sue the person, using the "intrusion of solitude" aspect of the tort law.
In a "public disclosure of private facts" situation, the facts themselves may be completely true, but the method of obtaining those facts and publishing them could constitute an invasion of privacy. Some unscrupulous reporters have been known to rummage through a public figure's garbage to find evidence of prescription drug use or other highly personal matters. Even though the garbage itself may have been placed on public space, the information contained within is still considered personal. A disgruntled employee may also decide to provide personal information to the media, which could expose him or her to a potential invasion of privacy lawsuit for publicly disclosing private facts about a public figure.
A more malicious form of invasion of privacy is addressed in the "false light" aspect of the law. This type of lawsuit is commonly pursued whenever someone deliberately misrepresents the "character, history, activities or beliefs" of another person. When actor Tom Cruise was accused of being homosexual by a male adult film star, for example, Cruise could have successfully sued the individual for portraying him in a false light. Since an unproven claim of this magnitude could have damaged Cruise's reputation in the film industry, there could be actual monetary damages attached to the lawsuit as well. Proving a "false light" invasion of privacy claim can be difficult, but it is commonly one of the best angles to pursue against misleading tabloid headlines.
The fourth aspect involves the misappropriation of a person's image or name. A public figure cannot always control the use of his or her likeness, but a blatant, unauthorized commercial use of a celebrity's image could result in an "appropriation" invasion of privacy lawsuit. If a local restaurant, for example, used a celebrity's name or image in a commercial and implied an official endorsement, it could face an invasion of privacy lawsuit.
This type of legal action is often taken against advertisers who morph the faces of celebrities onto other bodies to imply endorsement of a product. Actor Tom Skerritt prevailed in such a case against a company who used his face in advertisements for a natural male enhancement drug. People own their personal images, and have every right to demand others cease and desist any unauthorized commercial use of them.