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Home > SPJ News > Indiana’s highest court to hear Society’s arguments in right of privacy case

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Indiana’s highest court to hear Society’s arguments in right of privacy case

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
8/14/2000



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Contacts: Kyle Elyse Niederpruem, SPJ president, (317) 633-9385 Dan Byron, attorney and amicus author, (317) 686-5202

INDIANAPOLIS - The Society of Professional Journalists will be arguing before the state’s highest court that an unprecedented appellate court decision establishing a right of privacy for corporations should be overturned.

Joining the amicus brief with the Society are the Hoosier State Press Association, LIN Television Corp. and the National Association of Broadcasters.

According to the brief filed Aug. 3, Indiana’s Appellate Court decision, “broke from well-established law and made Indiana the first and only state to recognize a claim for invasion of privacy by a corporation.” The high court could schedule oral arguments in the case after Aug. 22.

The case stems from a years-long legal battle between the University of Evansville and William Felsher, a French professor who was fired in 1990. Felsher allegedly had presented himself as a university administrator in e-mail messages distributed across the country.

The university and several professors sued Felsher, claiming he was “misappropriating” their names and damaging their reputations by using Web sites to post derogatory materials.

In May, the appellate court ruled in the university’s favor.

“It adds another opportunity for corporations to sue newspapers, television and radio stations if they dislike something that’s been said about them,” said Daniel P. Byron, a senior partner with McHale, Cook & Welch in Indianapolis and author of the brief.

In the Society’s view, Indiana’s appellate court completely misinterpreted and misstated existing law regarding what types of plaintiffs may bring invasion of privacy claims.

“No state has ever recognized a privacy claim for a corporation, primarily because a corporation does not have a privacy interest to protect,” said Robert Lystad, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Baker & Hostetler LLP, which serves as the Society’s First Amendment counsel.

The amicus brief does not challenge invasion of privacy claims brought by individual professors, only the claim brought by the university.

“There are other legal rights for corporations and universities in these circumstances, including trademark or copyright infringement,” said Kyle Elyse Niederpruem, SPJ president and an assistant city editor at the Indianapolis Star.

Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information chairman and special projects coordinator at KPAX TV, Montana Television Network, said, “As journalists, we’ve already seen public records locked up ostensibly to protect the privacy of individuals. We’ve seen corporations get into the act, claiming privacy rights. Now, an institution of higher learning says ‘thou shalt not take our name in vain.’”

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

Follow these links for complete copies of the amicus brief and the appellate court ruling.

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

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Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789

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