Georgia recognizes a legal claim for publication of private facts. For the most part, the law in Georgia is similar to that described in the general page on publication of private facts. See that page for a full discussion of the elements of and defenses to a private facts claim. This page addresses only those aspects of Georgia law that are different from the general description.
Elements of a Private Facts Claim
In Georgia, the elements of a publication of private facts claim are: (1) the disclosure of private facts must be a public disclosure; (2) the facts disclosed to the public must be private, secluded or secret facts and not public ones; and (3) the matter made public must be offensive and objectionable to a reasonable man of ordinary sensibilities under the circumstances.
Georgia law does not impose liability for publication of information that is of legitimate public concern or newsworthy. Wilson v. Thurman, 445 S.E.2d 811, 813 (Ga. Ct. App. 1994). Georgia courts have repeatedly affirmed that reporting about issues concerning crime and criminal investigations are matters of public interest and cannot support a claim of invasion of privacy.
For example, courts applying Georgia law have found the following things, among others, to be of legitimate public concern (i.e., newsworthy):
- the identity of a man who recalled observing a noteworthy automobile at a double-homicide crime scene and informed police, his neighbors and the press about his observation;
- a truthful description of a vicious attack of a high school student by a group of his fellow students;
- a state investigation report concerning allegations of sexual harassment by a state employee that was disclosed to the media pursuant to an Open Records Act request;
- the name of a woman who shot and killed an intruder who attempted to assault her sexually; and
- the depiction of an inmate at a corrections facility that was broadcast by the media in connection with a story about improper use of prison labor by county officials.
In contrast, a Georgia appellate court affirmed the award of damages to a plaintiff whose identity as an AIDS patient was disclosed in a television program about AIDS. The court cited legislative enactments that protected persons against the disclosure of confidential AIDS information and reasoned that in each prior case which had rejected a claim for publication of private facts based upon the public interest of the subject matter, the information disclosed concerned a “criminal incident or investigation.” Multimedia WMAZ v. Kubach, 443 S.E.2d 491, 494-95 (Ga. App. Ct. 1994).
For additional information and discussion of Georgia cases, see the Reporters Committee's Photographers' Guide to Privacy: Georgia.
Relying on Public Records
In Georgia, you generally cannot be held liable for publishing truthful information obtained from government records open to public inspection. Courts have applied this protection to information obtained from court records and statements made before a public body, but it could apply to other government records as well, both because of a potential constitutional privilege and because the information is already exposed to the public eye.
Georgia recognizes consent as a defense to a publication of private facts claim. Georgia courts may recognize verbal or implied consent, but it is advisable to get it in writing whenever possible. If getting written consent is not practical, you should record verbal consent using an audio or video recording device. The age of majority in Georgia is eighteen; if you interview or photograph someone under the age of eighteen, you should seek consent from the subject's parent(s) or guardian. See the general description for a more detailed discussion of release forms.