MSC: No expectation of privacy

The Michigan Supreme Court has sided with producers of a hip hop concert and tour video, opining that government officials and staffers had no expectation of privacy during a conversation backstage at Joe Louis arena.

In Bowens v ARY Inc. et al, Detroit police officers and communications staff sued concert promoters after they recorded what the plaintiffs said was a private conversation. The city sent police officers to Joe Louis hours before the 2000 Up in Smoke tour, featuring Eminem and Dr. Dre, took the stage. They had caught wind of promoters’ plans to air what they called a sexually explicit video during the concert.

Police told tour staff that if the video aired, they would shut down the performance.

The video was not shown, but later when the tour DVD was released, there was an extra feature – a segment called “Detroit Controversy,” in which snippets of the conversation between tour staff and city staff were shown. The city called it eavesdropping.

The city sued. A trial court sided with the tour company, and dismissed the case. But the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

But the Michigan Supreme Court said that the city should have had no expectation that the conversation was private because:

1. The locale was backstage at Joe Louis “during the hectic hours preceding a high-profile concert, where over 400 people, including national and local media, had backstage passes.”

2. The defendants were antagonistic with the plaintiffs.

3. People were walking in and out of the room where the meeting and discussion took place.

4. And everyone knew that there were cameras nearby, including a crew from MTV.

The Michigan Supreme Court order puts to rest a 10-year battle between the concert promoters and the city.

Justice Marilyn Kelly disagreed withe majority, however. She said, “Without question, some portions of a conversation between the parties were openly recorded But a review of the recorded video footage submitted to the Court reveals that it is quite possible that the conversation at issue was secretly taped. Although defendants contend that the presence of the video camera should have been obvious, there is no footage of the filming itself. … Moreover, defendants’ representatives explicitly acquiesced in plaintiffs’ demand that the conversation be held in private.”


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