A lawsuit against the student paper at UMass Boston and its former editor has a chance to reshape press freedom in Massachusetts. Six years ago, the paper Mass Media published a police report and a photo of a man wanted for questioning by campus police for allegedly taking photos of women around campus. It ran under the headline, “Have You Seen this Man?” That man ended up being a university staffer named Jon Butcher. After an investigation, police found that he had committed no crime. His phone mostly contained photos of people riding the T. Butcher has sued, saying the paper defamed him, and so far he's been successful. The case is now headed to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Northeastern University law professor and WGBH News legal analyst Daniel Medwed spoke with WGBH Radio’s Arun Rath about the case and what’s at stake. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Arun Rath: The plaintiff in this case, Jon Butcher, says that in publishing his story, the newspaper hurt his reputation and his relationship with his boss, which eventually forced him to leave his IT job with UMass Boston. A state appeals court has already heard the case and they sided with him. What was the court's logic?

Daniel Medwed: The appeals court's logic was based on something known as the fair report privilege. That is, the First Amendment provides a balance between freedom of the press and individual privacy. The press is allowed to comment on official matters. It's called a "fair report." What that means is if you are arrested or there's a search warrant or if you're in a formal criminal case, then it's fair game for publications to report on you and your alleged activities.

But the issue here is whether a police report that did not actually culminate in an arrest or a search warrant or a case, whether that was essentially "fair report" for Mass Media, the organization behind the UMass Boston newspaper. And according to the court, it wasn't a fair report. It invaded Butcher’s privacy interests, and assuming he can show damages, the case can go forward.

Rath: Now Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has stepped in kind of on the other side of this to actually defend the UMass Boston paper, saying that the public has an interest in the case. I guess that there's a freedom of speech argument to be made?

Medwed: Absolutely. It boils down to the contours or the parameters of this fair report privilege, and Attorney General Healey — quite powerfully and rightfully so — has argued that information in a police blotter, information in a police report, is really an official item that is worthy of comment. Whereas other people, Jon Butcher in particular, but I imagine some people who are strongly concerned about privacy interests, are a little bit wary about allowing newspapers to delve into those matters. So it really is about, what is the appropriate balance between freedom of press and individual privacy?

Rath: And you know, obviously I'm a journalist, so I have a sort of pro-free speech bias, but with this case, I can see both sides. It's a tricky one.

Medwed: I think it is a tricky one, in part because we live in this Internet age where if the police make a mistake, if there's a report and they get it wrong, your name is out there for eternity, and it could have some downstream ripple effects on your livelihood, on your reputation. Whereas 25, 30 years ago, that wouldn't necessarily be the case, if it was contained in some police report. Even if someone published it, the chances that you would live in infamy forever were pretty small. So I think that's why this is a relatively tough case.