If I’m writing about another person or organization, for example, I have the right to withhold identifying the source from the public without disclosing confidential information. For example, I might withhold identifying the source of an email that I sent out as part of marketing material. Or I might withhold identifying the origin of a blog post that I wrote in order to protect myself from potential legal liability.
Here’s another example. Suppose that I own a business that publishes a newsletter about local laws and legalities. One day I receives a complaint about one of my articles. I can’t remember who complained about it, but it was either a lawyer or someone in the law profession. Naturally, I will not discuss any of this detail with anyone.
Another example includes the publication of a children’s book by a non-profit group. I’m involved in the project and am required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. This shows that I don’t want any criticism of the book to come from anyone except myself. Again, I can’t discuss this with anyone else.
I’m sure you‘ve seen this before, when a reporter is interviewing someone and asks them a question that may be interpreted in a way that makes their answer illegal. This is an example of protected speech. It’s illegal to prevent the interviewee from asking the question.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous case of Black v. Whitby. There, three white girls were kept from going to the library to get books by a black man because their foster father wasn’t willing to give them the library card they needed for free. The court ruled in their favor, and the library was open to all blacks for the rest of their lives.
These are only a few examples of legally protected speech. Other forms of expression are not as obvious, but there are no laws that prevent you from expressing yourself. If you’re not comfortable discussing sensitive personnel issues in the public square, then don’t do it. Just remember that the law doesn’t care about your feelings. It only cares about what is legally possible.
All these examples are relatively simple, but there are many more legal problems than these. Take, for instance, the recent kerfuffle between the Associated Press and Fox News. Media privilege is meant to protect the news media from having to publish damaging stories about a subject. However, in this case, the media was sued after it published stories about the activities of a CIA agent that killed a journalist. Was this legal? It’s a question of fact and degree, and the courts may have a different opinion, but you should still take care when taking part in any of these situations.
There are so many other legal issues. Think about medical malpractice law. Hospitals are protected by absolute medical privilege. What about divorce laws? Divorce is considered a private transaction, which is protected by the absolute legal privilege in most states. Private lawsuits on behalf of employees are also very common, which are also protected by absolute privilege.
If you think you’ve figured out how to take advantage of a privilege, but aren’t quite sure how to proceed, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney. A qualified lawyer will know all of the rules and exceptions, as well as know when they apply. Don’t just assume that the person or office to whom you’re referring has experience in such a situation. You’d be surprised. You could even find yourself on the wrong side of the law!
If you take advantage of legal privilege examples like the one above, there’s no reason to worry. Privilege protects you. It doesn’t protect others, and you must always act within the letter of the law. Otherwise, you may find yourself in serious legal trouble. Never take advantage of anyone else’s legal rights.