Ann Bogie went to talk to Joan Alexandra Molinsky Sanger Rosenberg – stage name Joan Rivers – after a performance at the Lake of the Torches Casino in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin. (Hmm, has Joan fallen on hard times?) Their 16-second exchange was filmed and used in a documentary movie called Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Bogie sued Rivers, her production company and others for invasion of privacy and misappropriation of personality. Part of her complaint was that the conversation she had had with Rivers might be construed as approval of the latter’s unkind remarks about Helen Keller, Wisconsin and its people, and an audience member who had heckled Rivers. The Wisconsin district court dismissed the claim, as has the appeals court for the 7th Circuit: Bogie v Rosenberg (7th Cir, 17 January 2013).

The 7th Circuit declined to disturb the lower court’s rulings that no reasonable person would have considered that (a) the crowded backstage area was private or (b) filming Bogie was highly offensive, even though Bogie did not consent to the filming and the filming was for a profit motive. Privacy law ultimately does not protect the ‘shrinking soul’ who is abnormally sensitive about appearing in public situations. Bogie may have been embarrassed about appearing to condone Rivers’s harsh (but probably funny) statements, but the law doesn’t provide protection from association with offensive material; it merely protects against intrusions on privacy. The misappropriation claim also failed because the documentary was about something newsworthy or in the public interest (liberally defined, anyway) and any misappropriation was an incidental part of a much larger whole.