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Sidis v. F-R Publishing Corp


    Citation. Sidis v. F-R Pub. Corp., 1940 U.S. LEXIS 26, 311 U.S. 711, 61 S. Ct. 393, 85 L. Ed. 462 (U.S. Dec. 16, 1940)

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, F-R Publishing Corp. (Defendant), wrote an article about the Plaintiff, William James Sidis (Plaintiff) who was once a public figure. The article was of public interest, however, it intruded upon the Plaintiff’s private life. The Plaintiff sued the Defendant for intrusion on his right to privacy.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Certain public figures must sacrifice their privacy and expose at least part of their lives to public scrutiny as the price of the power they attain.

    Facts. The Plaintiff was the unwilling subject of a brief biographical sketch and cartoon printed in The New Yorker weekly magazine, which was published by the Defendant. The Plaintiff was a famous child prodigy. His name and prowess were well known to newspaper readers of the period. When he was sixteen, he graduated from Harvard College, amid considerable public attention. Since then, his name has appeared in the press only sporadically and he has sought to live as unobtrusively as possible. The article on the Plaintiff described his early accomplishments in mathematics and the widespread attention he received, then recounts his general breakdown and the revulsion which the Plaintiff thereafter felt for his former life of fame and study. It is not contended that any of the matter printed is untrue. Nor is the manner of the author unfriendly. The work possesses great reader interest, for it is both amusing and instructive. But it may be fairly described as a ruthless exposure of a o
    nce public character, who has since sought and has not been deprived of the seclusion of private life. The Plaintiff sued the Defendant for intrusion on his right to privacy. The Defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted. The Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Is an invasion of privacy actionable if the Plaintiff was a public figure and the statements printed were of interest to the public?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    * The right to privacy must stem from the famous article by Warren and Brandeis on The Right of [to] Privacy in 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193. Warren and Brandeis realized that the interest of the individual in privacy must inevitably conflict with the interest of the public news. Certain public figures, they conceded, such as holders of public office, must sacrifice their privacy and expose at least part of their lives to public scrutiny as the price of the power they attain.
    * The Plaintiff was once a public figure. As a child prodigy, he excited both admiration and curiosity. Of him great deeds were expected. The article in The New Yorker sketched the life of an unusual personality and it possessed considerable popular news interest. The Court expressed no comment on whether or not the new worthiness of the matter printed will always constitute a complete defense.

    Discussion. In this case, the Plaintiff was a very prominent public figure. Despite his effort to remain out of the public eye, the article in The New Yorker was written about him. However, in this case, the newsworthiness of the article is a defense to the Plaintiff’s claim of invasion of privacy.


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