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Bernstein v. National Broadcasting Co.
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
129 F. Supp. 817 (1955)
Charles S. Bernstein (plaintiff) was convicted of bank robbery in 1919 and convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1933. With the help of Martha Strayer, a reporter who discovered evidence suggesting Bernstein’s innocence, Bernstein was ultimately released from prison and pardoned. Between about 1936 and 1948, news articles and radio programs told fictionalized versions of Bernstein’s story. In 1952, National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (defendant) aired a show entitled The Big Story (the show) that portrayed a fictionalized version of Bernstein’s story, which showed the character based on Bernstein in a positive light as an innocent man. The show retained several similarities to Bernstein’s story, including the use of Strayer’s real name, but many details were changed, and the show did not use Bernstein’s real name. Bernstein filed suit against NBC, alleging that, because he had led a private life since being released from prison, the show invaded Bernstein’s privacy by revealing details about his prior life that harmed his reputation. Bernstein acknowledged that he had previously been an involuntary public figure and that, accordingly, the details of his convictions and sentences had previously been public matters that could be publicized without violating his right to privacy. However, Bernstein argued that, by 1952, he was no longer an involuntary public figure as a result of the lapse of time between Bernstein’s release from prison and the show’s airing and thus that the show, which republished matters no longer within the public interest, constituted an invasion of privacy. NBC filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Bernstein had failed to state a valid claim.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Keech, J.)
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