Ask SPLC: Can I use an illegally recorded conversation?

Q: If a source provides me with an illegally recorded conversation or other piece of documentation illegally obtained, can I use the information in my article?

A: It depends. If you and your media outlet did not ask your source to obtain the material illegally or otherwise take part in its acquisition, and if you received the material lawfully from your source, then you will likely be able to use the information in your article. 

The other consideration you must take into account is whether the information is truthful and a matter of public concern. Among the factors to consider when trying to determine if a story is a matter of public concern are the social value of the facts published, the depth of the article’s intrusion into private affairs, and the extent to which the party voluntarily assumed a position of public notoriety. 

Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.

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