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N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 50 forbids the use of a name or picture only when employed "for advertising purposes, or for the purposes of trade." In this context, it is clear that "for the purposes of trade" does not contemplate the publication of a newspaper, magazine, or book, which imparts truthful news or other factual information to the public.
William James Sidis was the unwilling subject of a brief biographical sketch and cartoon printed in The New Yorker weekly magazine for August 14, 1937. Further references were made to him in the issue of December 25, 1937, and a newspaper advertisement announcing the August 14 issue. He brought an action in the district court against the publisher, F-R Publishing Corporation. Plaintiff contended that the article violated his right to privacy, and was in violation of N.Y. Civ. Rights Law §§ 50 and 51.
Could plaintiff maintain a claim against a publisher for invasion of privacy based on a magazine article about the plaintiff, a former public figure, which contained statements of interest to the public?
The court held that although the article was a ruthless exposure of a once public person, who since sought and has now been deprived of the seclusion of private life, because great deeds had been expected of plaintiff, who was a child prodigy, his subsequent history, containing the answer to the question whether he had fulfilled his early promise, remained a matter of public concern and possessed considerable popular news interest. Additionally, the court held that the advertisement in the forthcoming issue of the magazine was not a basis of recovery under N.Y. Civ. Rights Law §§50 and 51 because the magazine article itself was unobjectionable.