Commonwealth v. Wiseman

356 Mass. 251, 249 N.E.2d 610 (1969)

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Commonwealth v. Wiseman

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
356 Mass. 251, 249 N.E.2d 610 (1969)

Facts

In 1965, Mr. Wiseman and Bridgewater Film Company, Inc. (BFC) (plaintiffs) were granted permission from the commissioner and superintendent of one of the commonwealth’s (defendant) correctional institutions to make an educational documentary about the various functions of the institution. The institution held the commonwealth’s mentally ill delinquents and criminals. Permission was conditionally granted given that all inmates’ rights would be protected; only those inmates who were legally competent to sign a release would be filmed; written releases would be obtained; and the film would not be released without approval from the attorney general, the commissioner, and the superintendent. After three months of nearly unrestricted access to the facility, Wiseman produced a film containing scenes depicting some inmates nude or in personal or private moments. Reactions varied—some were impressed and considered the film journalism, education, and art while others were adversely critical. The attorney general felt that the film would be impactful but was concerned about the competency of some who were depicted, raising questions regarding the legality of their releases. Despite the concerns, Wiseman entered a deal with a distribution company to show the film in theaters in the United States and Canada. The commonwealth sued Wiseman and BFC to enjoin all showings of the film. A trial court granted the injunction and ordered that all films and related materials be delivered to the commonwealth for destruction. The trial judge condemned the film as a flagrant abuse of the granted permission, finding that instead of being educational, the film was sensational and a show of crass commercialism. Wiseman and BFC appealed. The commonwealth also appealed for distribution of the film’s profits.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Cutter, J.)

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