Federal Court Rules Against Hustler Magazine in Use of Nude Photos of Deceased Wife of Wrester Chris Benoit

200px-BenoitInTheRing200px-Hustlercoverjune2008The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has issued a major ruling on freedom of the press and privacy. The court ruled that Hustler did not have the right to publish nude photographs of Nancy Benoit, the wife of professional wrestler Chris Benoit. Chris Benoit killed his wife and his young son before taking his own life.


Nancy Benoit’s family filed the federal lawsuit against the Larry Flynt Publishing Group in 2008 claiming that Nancy Benoit had instructed the photographer to destroy the photographs roughly 20 years ago. Nancy Benoit was a professional wrestler and model.

The case centered on the scope of the “right to publicity.” This includes the right to one’s likeness and name. What is interesting is that this right continues after death while the right to sue in defamation does not. (Hence, the rule that you cannot defame the dead). At issue was the exception for stories that are a “legitimate matter of public interest and concern.” A trial judge had ruled that the photos fit such an exception but the three-judge panel reversed.

In an opinion written by Judge Charles Wilson, the panel concluded that the magazine tried to make the pictures look like a legitimate story by attaching a brief biography” “These private, nude photographs were not incident to a newsworthy article; rather, the brief biography was incident to the photographs.”

The court stated:

The magazine cover advertises “WRESTLER CHRIS BENOIT’S MURDERED WIFE NUDE.” The table of contents lists “NANCY BENOIT Exclusive Nude Pics of Wrestler’s Doomed Wife.” Neither the cover nor the table of contents makes any reference to the accompanying article. The article is entitled “NANCY BENOIT Au Naturel: The long-lost images of wrestler Chris Benoit’s doomed wife.” The title and page frame, which reads “EXCLUSIVE PICS! EXCLUSIVE PICS!,” comprise about one-third of the first page. A second third of the page is devoted to two nude photographs of Benoit. The final third of the page discusses Benoit’s murder and her nude photo shoot, twice referencing her brief desire to be a model. The second page of the article is entirely devoted to photographs, displaying eight additional photographs of Benoit. The heart of this article was the publication of nude photographs– not the corresponding biography.

The magazine cover advertises “WRESTLER CHRIS BENOIT’S MURDERED WIFE NUDE.” The table of contents lists “NANCY BENOIT Exclusive Nude Pics of Wrestler’s Doomed Wife.” Neither the cover nor the table of contents makes any reference to the accompanying article. The article is entitled “NANCY BENOIT Au Naturel: The long-lost images of wrestler Chris Benoit’s doomed wife.” The title and page frame, which reads “EXCLUSIVE PICS! EXCLUSIVE PICS!,” comprise about one-third of the first page. A second third of the page is devoted to two nude photographs of Benoit. The final third of the page discusses Benoit’s murder and her nude photo shoot, twice referencing her brief desire to be a model. The second page of the article is entirely devoted to photographs, displaying eight additional photographs of Benoit. The heart of this article was the publication of nude photographs– not the corresponding biography.

The opinion is well-written and notably relies on the decision upholding the right of the family of the Martin Luther King family to restrict use of his famous speech “I have a Dream.” The court focused on the disconnect between the substantive story and the sensational photos. It makes for an interesting read.

For a copy of the ruling, click here.

9 thoughts on “Federal Court Rules Against Hustler Magazine in Use of Nude Photos of Deceased Wife of Wrester Chris Benoit”

  1. Repeat from a previous post:

    “Before some *new person* who thinks he or she is so smart at readin’ and findin’ ‘grammer’ errors, and then foolishly complains about a misspellin’ with their own misspellings, (as has happened today already) there is at least 1 typo or misspelled word in the topic article.”
    __________________________________

    Update/Addendum: or *old person* (previous poster here)…

    How brilliant of you m87, how ‘flabulously’ brill….

    Whelp ‘fesser T, I done plum tuckered ‘n tarred out raybuttin’ dem ‘nglish jeanyushes whut git ‘there’ kicks outta findin’ dat a larned, tinyard ‘collage’ Professor at GW Law caint spillt a wurd rite, sumtymes, dat I gess I figgers ya otta, mite, juss fer dis *sight* git…
    ————————

    Snark Off…

    Folks, certainly, if there is an error in the legalese presented, then please disclose your evidence; otherwise, your drawing attention to some spelling errors is a pretentious cheap shot because most of the well-read and highly educated people here catch them and do not expose those minor errors.

  2. Amazing to me that it took a three judge panel of the 11th Circuit to conclude that Hustler’s photo-essay was exploitive of its subject and a usurpation of the rights of her estate. Does anyone really believe that the photographs were interposed to aid in the readership’s understanding of the story? Any adolescent male could have answered that question.

  3. I agree that neither the dead nor the living should be defamed.

    What I can’t connect is how nudity would defame the woman.

    I have not seen the pics but common sense says they would not be published unless she is a good looking woman in the nude, so that is why I wonder about that defaming her.

    I think one big and interesting sub plot in this tragic story is that beauty alone does not tame the beast.

  4. Overall I like Larry Flint, although “Hustler” has always been
    trash, not that I don’t like well done pornography, but “Hustler” doesn’t pass the test. Flint has fought a good fight for free speech and sexuality. In this instance the article was more exploitative than even Hustler’s low standards and shouldn’t have been done.

  5. Before some new person who thinks he or she is so smart at readin’ and findin’ ‘grammer’ errors, and then foolishly complains about a misspellin’ with their own misspellings, (as has happened today already) there is at least 1 typo or misspelled word in the topic article.

  6. Sorry, Larry. You win some, you lose some, but at least it seems to be on the merits.

  7. Selling Sex for Money or Money for Sex. Humm, Larry Flint has been sued before. I do agree with the decesion.

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