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Home > SPJ News > SPJ Praises Court's Decision in Critical First Amendment Case on Altered Photographs

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SPJ Praises Court's Decision in Critical First Amendment Case on Altered Photographs



Contacts: Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment counsel, 202/861-1660 or; Al Cross, SPJ president-elect, 502/875-5136 or

INDIANAPOLIS - The Society of Professional Journalists is hailing a federal court's decision that altered photographs used for journalistic purposes - and clearly made known as alterations - are entitled to First Amendment protection.

The Ninth Circuit Court recently reversed a district court decision in Hoffman vs. Capital Cities/ABC Inc. In the case, actor Dustin Hoffman claimed right of publicity and copyright infringement against LA Magazine for its "Grand Illusions" article. Hoffman had been awarded substantial damages by the trial court.

An altered photograph of Hoffman from the movie "Tootsie" was used to illustrate the fashion article.

"Hopefully, this decision will stem the recent trend of celebrities attempting to control their images at the expense of the public's First Amendment Freedoms," said Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment counsel at Baker & Hostetler in Washington, D.C.

SPJ and other media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case to support the Capital Cities/ABC Inc. position that altered photographs - used in this journalistic manner - are entitled to non-commercial speech protections under the First Amendment.

"For some people, this may have been a close call, because it's possible to interpret our Code of Ethics in slightly different ways," said SPJ President-Elect Al Cross, political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. "In this case, a magazine simply put a different dress on an actor than he wore in a movie, and was honest with its readers about the alteration. Given those facts, it should enjoy First Amendment protection."

Under one of its four broad principles, "Seek Truth and Report It," the SPJ Code of Ethics states, "Journalists should make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent," and should "never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations."

Other media organizations that joined the friend-of-the-court brief, filed by New York lawyer Floyd Abrams, were: The Associated Press; Cahners Business Information; The Economist Newspaper; Forbes Inc.; Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing; Hachette Filipacchi Magazines Inc.; Hearst Corp.; The Lost Angeles Times; King World Productions Inc.; Knight-Ridder Inc.; The McClatchy Co.; Newsweek Inc.; National Broadcasting Co.; The New York Daily News; The New York Times Co.; Time Inc.; The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; The Association of American Publishers Inc.; The California Newspaper Publishers Association; The International Periodical Distributors Association; Magazine Publishers of America Inc.; National Association of Broadcasters; and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

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