Elements of a Private Facts Claim
In Ohio, the elements of a publication of private facts claim are: (1) a public disclosure; (2) the facts disclosed must concern the private life of an individual, not his or her public life; (3) the matter disclosed must be one which would be highly offensive and objectionable to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities; (4) the disclosure must have been made intentionally, not negligently; and (5) the matter disclosed must not be of legitimate concern to the public.
Ohio law does not impose liability for publication of factually accurate information that is "newsworthy" or of legitimate public concern. Examples of things that Ohio courts have considered to be of legitimate public concern or newsworthy include:
- a drug raid, including the arrest of an innocent bystander that was broadcast on television;
- the name and address of a murder suspect's father;
- the manner in which the police handle domestic violence complaints;
- information concerning a county government's Medicaid fraud investigation; and
- allegations of domestic abuse against a police chief.
For additional information and discussion of Ohio cases, see the Reporters Committee's Photographers' Guide to Privacy: Ohio.
Relying on Public Records
In Ohio, you generally cannot be held liable for publishing truthful information gathered from government records that are open to public inspection. So far, Ohio courts have applied this protection to information obtained from court records, police personnel files, and Internal Affairs Department files, but it would likely 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.
Ohio recognizes consent as a defense to a publication of private facts claim. Ohio 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 try to record verbal consent using an audio or video recording device. The age of majority in Ohio 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.