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Can Woman Whose Pictures Were Stolen to Create Te'o 'Girlfriend' Persona Sue?

The Legal As She Is Spoke blog poses and sets out to answer an interesting question yesterday: "Can Manti Te'o’s 'Girlfriend' Sue?"

To be more specific, given that Manti Te'o's girlfriend was non-existent, the post examines whether Diane O'Meara, the woman whose Facebook pictures were copied and used to create the persona of the fictitious "Lennay Kekua," could successfully sue Ronaiah Tuiasosopo or even Notre Dame. Tuiasosopo has admitted that he was the person behind the hoax.

LASIS says that O'Meara could pursue a claim of "false light" against Tuiasosopo, although such a claim is by no means a sure-fire win. To succeed on a false light claim, LASIS writes, O'Meara would have to prove several things:

  • Tuiasosopo implied something false about her, which she can likely do by showing that she "is not now, and has never been, Lennay Kekua, that she wasn't in a terrible car accident, and that she didn't die of leukemia."
  • That what Mr. Tuiasosopo did was offensive to a reasonable person. Probably not too tough, LASIS argues, given Tuiasosopo's use of her personal pictures.
  • That the falsehood was publicly disclosed and that Mr. Tuiasosopo was at fault. Yes and yes, LASIS concludes.

LASIS also examines whether O'Meara might also be able to bring a claim against Tuiasosopo for violating her right to privacy when he used her pictures and likeness without her consent. This might be tough given that O'Meara would have to show that she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in her photos because "several cases have held that no reasonable expectation of privacy exists for Facebook, especially once you’re 'friends' with someone." Since O'Meara and Tuiasosopo were "friends" on Facebook, LASIS writes, "she was implicitly acknowledging that information and photos she published would be shared specifically with him."

Finally, LASIS is dubious about a possible negligence or intentional infliction of emotional distress case against Notre Dame. "Notre Dame didn't know the true identity behind the photographs of Lennay Kekua, even after conducting its own investigation," LASIS argues, and didn't owe O'Meara a legal duty, in any event.

Check out LASIS's full analysis here.

Posted by Bruce Carton on March 7, 2013 at 04:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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