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Dietemann v. Time, Inc. (1971)

Knox Graham

Basic Facts:

The case of Dietemann v Time is a case of invasion of privacy.   Life magazine was doing an investigation for their magazine on supposed “quack doctors” that were practicing medicine illegally.  The investigator would pretend to be a patient and then go into the alleged doctors office undercover with audio and camera equipment hidden.  This would record evidence that showed the doctors were in fact not licensed physicians and then they would write about it.

Dietemann was one of these doctors that practiced medicine in the den of his home.  An undercover patient went into his home and was hooked up with audio that was being transmitted to a police car outside the home.  This foiled his operation and he was ousted as a fraud.

Question:

Does someone have a right to an expected place of solitude where no one will unlawfully invade their space to gather info or other material against their will?  Did Time invade his space?

Decision:

He sued Life magazine saying that the hidden electronics were an invasion of his privacy.

The court did not agree that hidden mechanical devices were “indispensible tools” of newsgathering here even though the 1st Amendment covers news gathering.  The Court came to the conclusion that “The First Amendment is not a license to trespass, to steal or to intrude by electronic means into the precincts of another’s home or office.”

Ruling:

Dietemann won the case on electronic intrusion and was awarded $1000.  His den was an expected place of solitude.

The Dietemann Decision modified the concept of freedom of press in two ways.

1)          “The First Amendment gives the media no right to break the law with impunity, even if

legitimate news is being pursued”.

2)            Reporters are not protected by the First Amendment when they commit crimes or torts.

April 7, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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