Pennsylvania recognizes a legal claim for publication of private facts. For the most part, the law in Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania law that are different from the general description.
Elements of a Private Facts Claim
In Pennsylvania, the elements of a publication of private facts claim are: (1) publicity given to (2) private facts, (3) which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (4) is not of legitimate concern to the public.
Pennsylvania law does not impose liability for publication of factually accurate information that is "newsworthy" or of legitimate public concern. Pennsylvania courts consider information newsworthy when it concerns "relatively current events such as in the common experience are likely to be of public interest." Jenkins v. Dell Publ'g Co., 251 F.2d 447, 451 (3d Cir. 1958).
Courts applying Pennsylvania law have found the following things to be of legitimate public concern or newsworthy:
- the identity of a person running for public office;
- the use of public tax dollars to pay a privately retained psychologist;
- the terms of an employment discrimination settlement;
- the prosecution of a former police officer, charged with heinous crimes against a minor;
- a couple's marriage and subsequent divorce; and
- a photograph of a Pittsburgh Steelers fan with his fly undone.
In contrast, one court held that a photograph of a woman in a bathtub was not newsworthy because many people engage in bathing on a daily basis and the media generally does not consider it worth reporting publicly. McCabe v. Vill. Voice, Inc., 550 F.Supp. 525, 530-31, n.10 (D.C.Pa. 1982).
For additional information and discussion of Pennsylvania cases, see the Reporters Committee's Photographers' Guide to Privacy: Pennsylvania.
Relying on Public Records
Pennsylvania law recognizes a constitutional privilege for publishing truthful facts contained in public records. So far, Pennsylvania courts have applied this protection to information obtained from court records, 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.
Pennsylvania recognizes consent as a defense to a publication of private facts claim. Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania 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.