Media Law in New York State

Roy Gutterman

Roy Gutterman

Associate Professor

Associate Professor


What was the focus of the project?

My research focuses on media law in New York state.  This annual article is a substantial part of my broader research agenda on media law and First Amendment issues.  I have been writing an annual article for the Syracuse Law Review’s annual Survey of New York Law every year since 2008.  This is a special edition of the law review in which law professors and experts write a “survey” article tracking major developments in a variety of topics, including civil practice, torts, contracts, environmental, insurance and other areas of law.  The law review has been publishing the Survey since 1962 and it serves as a comprehensive record of legal developments in the state.

Because New York is the so-called “media capital of the world,” every year there are dozens of cases involving newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, filmmakers and other media entities.  Over the years, social media has become an important companion as courts apply the law to developing and modern media.  There are also frequent statutory developments that envelope the media and the First Amendment. 

My annual article runs in the 30-page range with footnotes and covers cases across the New York State court system—trial courts, appellate division and the Court of Appeals – and the federal district courts and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. 

What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc.?

There is not a single research question as much as an overall goal of finding out what happened in media and First Amendment law in New York in the previous year. The survey year runs from July 1 to June 30 the following year.  The substantive cases cover developments in defamation law, invasion of privacy and other torts such as intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Other areas cover some intellectual property cases involving media and high-profile Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) as well as reporter’s privilege or confidentiality cases. 

These cases touch on the important role the press plays in public affairs and the free flow of information, and how the law protects these rights.

What were your findings? 

If there is one consistent theme in this annual research, it is that New York law is protective of media rights.  For example, suing the media for defamation in New York requires a heavy burden for plaintiffs, especially when assessing matters of public interest and New York has a narrow definition of invasion of privacy (defined only as unauthorized use of someone’s image or likeness for commercial purposes).  Every year, it is reassuring to read cases where judges laud the media and hand down decisions that uphold the press’s First Amendment role.

What do you think the implications are for the discipline?

With the number of reported opinions on both broad and extremely narrow issues, having an annual summary and analysis of all these cases in one article provides a useful resource for lawyers, judges and scholars.  Over the years, some of the country’s most interesting media law cases have emerged from state and federal courts in New York.  My Survey article is often the first to cover these cases before other scholars.  At least one media lawyer mentioned that she looks forward to reading the survey article every year so she can track cases that may have slipped by her scrutiny. 

Even with the wealth of legal resources available to lawyers and scholars through databases, websites and legal publications, having a comprehensive annual summary and analysis in one readable article provides a useful tool. The article is annually cited in the annotated notes to relevant statutes in McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York, the state’s official statutes. 

From a personal standpoint, reading all these cases every year enhances my teaching.  One of the most common questions media law professors get asked is: what if…? Students expect and deserve competent answers from their professors.  After reading and writing about dozens of cases every year, it helps me answer students’ questions with a reference to a recent case.  These cases also provide real, current examples I bring into the classroom.  It is especially useful when cases have not been decided by appellate courts and questions remain open for interpretation and analysis. 

If there are implications for the future or new directions for the work, what are they?

Luckily, there is never a shortage of hot topics in the field of New York media law.  Spotting trends and emerging legal issues is an exciting element of this research.  Sometimes the bigger cases get media attention, but tracking cases from the lower courts through the appellate system is interesting.  Sometimes, a trial court decision one year will reemerge a year or two later with an appellate division or Court of Appeals or Second Circuit Court of Appeals opinion.  These appellate decisions serve as both case studies and binding precedent for other courts to follow.