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Gates v. Discovery Communications, Inc.

Citation. Gates v. Discovery Communications, Inc., 101 P.3d 552 (Cal. 2004)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Steven Gates (Gates) sued Discovery Communications, Inc. on claims of defamation and invasion of privacy for filming a documentary on crimes committed by Gates. The information for the documentary were obtained from public record.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A plaintiff is barred from suing for invasion of privacy based on truthful information obtained from the official, public record of a criminal proceeding under the First Amendment.


Discovery Communications, Inc. (Discovery Communications) filmed a documentary on the crimes committed by Steven Gates (Gates) based on information gained from official, public records. Gates filed suit against Discovery Communications on charges of defamation and invasion and privacy. The trial court dismissed the defamation claim due to the accuracy of the statements made in the documentary, but refused to dismiss the invasion of privacy claim. The appellate division reversed because the information in the documentary were accurate and obtained from official, public record and is therefore protected under the First Amendment. Gates appealed.


Can a plaintiff sue for invasion of privacy based on truthful information obtained from the official, public record of a criminal proceeding?


Yes. Affirmed.


In The Florida Star v. B.J.F., 491 U.S. 524 (1989), the United States Supreme Court ruled that may not prohibit the publication of information by a newspaper if the information obtained was significant to the public. Similarly, in Oklahoma Publishing Co. v. District Court, 430 U.S. 308 (1975), the Supreme Court ruled that the press could not be prevented from publishing information already available to the public that is connected to the prosecution of the crime. To prevent the publication of truthful information would intrude on the First Amendment privileges of the press. If the information obtained is already available to the public, a right of privacy claim cannot be maintained under the First Amendment.

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