A federal appeals court has sided with Hustler Magazine in a bizarre court battle over images of a murdered model.
In the late 1980s, a woman named Nancy Benoit (then Daus) posed nude in a video for photographer Mark Samansky. Afterward, Benoit had a change of heart and requested that the film be destroyed. Samansky, however, kept the video and made stills from it. Daus went on to become a wrestling promoter and manager, eventually marrying WWE performer Chris Benoit. In June 2007, she was murdered along with her son in a double murder-suicide committed by her husband.
Soon after Benoit’s murder, Hustler obtained copies of Samansky’s work with the intention of publishing it in the March 2008 issue. Benoit’s family argued that the publication of the materials would violate her copyright and publicity rights. Hustler maintained that copyright law did not apply and claimed they had a First Amendment right to publish the photos. Arguments of taste notwithstanding, Hustler‘s case was that the images corresponded to a legitimate news story and were not exploitative. In 2011, a jury decided in favor of Benoit, moving to penalize the magazine $19.6 million.
On Tuesday, however, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hustler by saying there wasn’t enough evidence to support the jury’s 2011 decision. The penalty was reduced to $250,000, which was also vacated by the court.