995.50 995.50 Right of privacy.
995.50(1)(1)The right of privacy is recognized in this state. One whose privacy is unreasonably invaded is entitled to the following relief:
995.50(1)(a) (a) Equitable relief to prevent and restrain such invasion, excluding prior restraint against constitutionally protected communication privately and through the public media;
995.50(1)(b) (b) Compensatory damages based either on plaintiff's loss or defendant's unjust enrichment; and
995.50(1)(c) (c) A reasonable amount for attorney fees.
995.50(2) (2)
995.50(2)(am)(am) In this section, “invasion of privacy" means any of the following:
995.50(2)(am)1. 1. Intrusion upon the privacy of another of a nature highly offensive to a reasonable person, except as provided under par. (bm), in a place that a reasonable person would consider private, or in a manner that is actionable for trespass.
995.50(2)(am)2. 2. The use, for advertising purposes or for purposes of trade, of the name, portrait or picture of any living person, without having first obtained the written consent of the person or, if the person is a minor, of his or her parent or guardian.
995.50(2)(am)3. 3. Publicity given to a matter concerning the private life of another, of a kind highly offensive to a reasonable person, if the defendant has acted either unreasonably or recklessly as to whether there was a legitimate public interest in the matter involved, or with actual knowledge that none existed. It is not an invasion of privacy to communicate any information available to the public as a matter of public record.
995.50(2)(am)4. 4. Conduct that is prohibited under s. 942.09, regardless of whether there has been a criminal action related to the conduct, and regardless of the outcome of the criminal action, if there has been a criminal action related to the conduct.
995.50(2)(bm) (bm) “Invasion of privacy” does not include the use of a surveillance device under s. 995.60.
995.50(3) (3)The right of privacy recognized in this section shall be interpreted in accordance with the developing common law of privacy, including defenses of absolute and qualified privilege, with due regard for maintaining freedom of communication, privately and through the public media.
995.50(4) (4)Compensatory damages are not limited to damages for pecuniary loss, but shall not be presumed in the absence of proof.
995.50(6) (6)
995.50(6)(a)(a) If judgment is entered in favor of the defendant in an action for invasion of privacy, the court shall determine if the action was frivolous. If the court determines that the action was frivolous, it shall award the defendant reasonable fees and costs relating to the defense of the action.
995.50(6)(b) (b) In order to find an action for invasion of privacy to be frivolous under par. (a), the court must find either of the following:
995.50(6)(b)1. 1. The action was commenced in bad faith or for harassment purposes.
995.50(6)(b)2. 2. The action was devoid of arguable basis in law or equity.
995.50(7) (7)No action for invasion of privacy may be maintained under this section if the claim is based on an act which is permissible under ss. 196.63 or 968.27 to 968.373.
995.50 History History: 1977 c. 176; 1987 a. 399; 1991 a. 294; 2001 a. 33; 2005 a. 155 s. 51; Stats. 2005 s. 995.50; 2013 a. 375; 2019 a. 72.
995.50 Annotation Commercial misappropriation of a person's name is prohibited by Wisconsin common law. Hirsch v. S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 90 Wis. 2d 379, 280 N.W.2d 129 (1979).
995.50 Annotation Oral communication among numerous employees and jail inmates is sufficient to constitute publicity under sub. (2) (c) [now sub. (2) (am) 3.]. The plain meaning of “a place" in sub. (2) (a) [now sub. (2) (am) 1.] is geographical and does not include a file of medical records. Hillman v. Columbia County, 164 Wis. 2d 376, 474 N.W.2d 913 (Ct. App. 1991).
995.50 Annotation Disclosure of private information to one person or to a small group does not, as a matter of law in all cases, fail to satisfy the publicity element of an invasion of privacy claim. Whether a disclosure satisfies the publicity element of an invasion of privacy claim depends upon the particular facts of the case and the nature of the plaintiff's relationship to the audience who received the information. Pachowitz v. LeDoux, 2003 WI App 120, 265 Wis. 2d 631, 666 N.W.2d 88, 02-2100.
995.50 Annotation An action for invasion of privacy requires: 1) a public disclosure of facts regarding the plaintiff; 2) the facts disclosed were private; 3) the private matter is one that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities; and 4) the party disclosing the facts acted either unreasonably or recklessly as to whether there was a legitimate public interest in the matter or with actual knowledge that none existed. In order to find public disclosure, the matter must be regarded as substantially certain to become one of public knowledge. Olson v. Red Cedar Clinic, 2004 WI App 102, 273 Wis. 2d 728, 681 N.W.2d 306, 03-2198.
995.50 Annotation The recording of sounds emanating from a neighbor's home using a common recording device that was placed inside the defendant's own window was not an intrusion of a nature highly offensive to a reasonable person in violation of sub. (2) (a) [now sub. (2) (am) 1.]. Poston v. Burns, 2010 WI App 73, 325 Wis. 2d 404, 784 N.W.2d 717, 09-0463.
995.50 Annotation Sub. (2) (a) [now sub. (2) (am) 1.] has a spatial basis—the invasion of privacy must occur in a place that a reasonable person would consider private or in a manner that is actionable for trespass. In this case, the only action that was allegedly taken by the defendant was the distribution of fliers containing information that was already available to the public. That the information may have inspired others to make phone calls, honk horns, or write letters does not mean that the defendant invaded the plaintiff's private space. Keller v. Patterson, 2012 WI App 78, 343 Wis. 2d 569, 819 N.W.2d 841, 11-0334.
995.50 Annotation Sub. (2) (c) [now sub. (2) (am) 3.] addresses situations where an individual makes public statements about the private life of another person in a highly offensive way. In order to fall under sub. (2) (c) [now sub. (2) (am) 3.], the statements must make information public that was not previously available to the public. Keller v. Patterson, 2012 WI App 78, 343 Wis. 2d 569, 819 N.W.2d 841, 11-0334.
995.50 Annotation The more reasonable interpretation of “use" in sub. (2) (b) [now sub. (2) (am) 2.] is that it does not cover bidding on someone's name as a keyword search term. The holding is limited to the particular “non-visible" type of use at issue in this case. Habush v. Cannon, 2013 WI App 34, 346 Wis. 2d 709, 828 N.W.2d 876, 11-1769.
995.50 Annotation The publicity of private facts cause of action under sub. (2) (am) 3. requires intentional conduct. An allegation of failing to prevent a data breach is not an allegation that a defendant intended the disclosure or publicity of private facts and, thus, is insufficient to state a claim for invasion of privacy by publicity of private facts. Reetz v. Advocate Aurora Health, Inc., 2022 WI App 59, 405 Wis. 2d 298, 983 N.W.2d 669, 21-0520.
995.50 Annotation The right to privacy law does not affect the duties of custodians of public records under s. 19.21. 68 Atty. Gen. 68.
995.50 Annotation Surveillance of a school district employee from public streets and highways by the employer school district's agents to determine whether the employee was in violation of the district's residency policy did not violate this section. Munson v. Milwaukee Board of School Directors, 969 F.2d 266 (1992).
995.50 Annotation While the Open Records Law and this section are related laws, they are only related in that a finding under the Open Records Law that a record should be made public would necessarily mean that “the information was available to the public as a matter of public record." This is true because both statutes apply the same common-law balancing test when determining whether a record is public. When a trial court found only that the procedures delineated in the Open Records Law were not followed, those procedures had no impact on the question of whether a record is public under this section; the procedures are merely procedural, not substantive. Hutchins v. Clarke, 661 F.3d 947 (2011).
995.50 Annotation In drafting this section, the legislature used New York's privacy statute as a model. The text of sub. (2) (b) [now sub. (2) (am) 2.] duplicates nearly verbatim New York law. Case law under the New York privacy statute may be particularly useful. Bogie v. Rosenberg, 705 F.3d 603 (2013).
995.50 Annotation A claim under sub. (2) (a) [now sub. (2) (am) 1.] must show that the alleged intrusion into privacy would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. The question of what kinds of conduct will be regarded as a highly offensive intrusion is largely a matter of social conventions and expectations. The offensiveness of the intrusion itself cannot be based on the content or substance captured by virtue of the alleged intrusion. The fact that the plaintiff was embarrassed to be filmed saying something the plaintiff regretted having said and later deemed offensive did not convert the filming itself into a highly offensive intrusion. Bogie v. Rosenberg, 705 F.3d 603 (2013).
995.50 Annotation When a matter of legitimate public interest is concerned, no cause of action for invasion of privacy will lie. This newsworthiness or public interest exception should be construed broadly, covering not only descriptions of actual events, but also articles concerning political happenings, social trends, or any subject of public interest. Wisconsin courts have also incorporated the common law exception for incidental use into the statute. Bogie v. Rosenberg, 705 F.3d 603 (2013).
995.50 Annotation Court documents are matters of public interest. It follows that, if court documents warrant the public interest exception, Internet search providers and indexes that lead the public to those documents or that capture key terms related to them are likewise entitled to that exception. To the extent that a search provider's profit motives undermine the reliance on the public interest argument, the exception applies even when the entities sharing the information do so largely, and even primarily, to make a profit. Stayart v. Google Inc., 710 F.3d 719 (2013).
995.50 Annotation A person's religious affiliation, standing alone, is not so private that publication would offend a reasonable person and constitute an invasion of privacy under sub. (2) (c) [now sub. (2) (am) 3.]. Briggs & Stratton Corp. v. National Catholic Reporter Publishing Co., 978 F. Supp. 1195 (1997).
995.50 Annotation The exclusivity provision of the Workers Compensation Act does not bar a claim for invasion of privacy under this section. Marino v. Arandell Corp., 1 F. Supp. 2d 947 (1998).
995.50 Annotation The Wisconsin court of appeals has held that unwanted phone calls do not constitute an invasion of privacy under this section. Baemmert v. Credit One Bank, N.A., 271 F. Supp. 3d 1043 (2017).
995.50 Annotation The first element of a claim under sub. (2) (c) [now sub. (2) (am) 3.] requires intentional disclosure by the defendant. A defendant is not liable under this section for information stolen by a third party. Fox v. Iowa Health System, 399 F. Supp. 3d 780 (2019).
995.50 Annotation The Absence of False Light from the Wisconsin Privacy Statute. Dee. 66 MLR 99 (1982).
995.50 Annotation The Tort of Misappropriation of Name or Likeness Under Wisconsin's New Privacy Law. Endejan. 1978 WLR 1029.
995.50 Annotation The Case for Reexamining Privacy Law in Wisconsin: Why Wisconsin Courts Should Adopt the Interpretation of the Tort of Intrusion upon Seclusion of Fischer v. Mount Olive Lutheran Church. Infield-Harm. 2004 WLR 1781.
995.50 Annotation The Scope of Wisconsin's Privacy Statute. Backer. Wis. Law. Sept. 2003.
995.50 Annotation Employer Liability for Employment References. Mac Kelly. Wis. Law. Apr. 2008.
995.50 Annotation 101: How to Combat Revenge Porn. Post. Wis. Law. Feb. 2020.
2021-22 Wisconsin Statutes updated through 2023 Wis. Act 210 and through all Supreme Court and Controlled Substances Board Orders filed before and in effect on May 17, 2024. Published and certified under s. 35.18. Changes effective after May 17, 2024, are designated by NOTES. (Published 5-17-24)