The paper examines semantic problems arising from the interchangeable use of the words hostage-taking and kidnapping and the legitimate expectations, claims, or interests of a hostage. A discussion of official obligations of governments and private obligations of hostage-takers owed to hostages notes that both are influenced strongly by status and relationships. The paper traces a shift in official responses to hostage-taking following the 1972 terrorist episode at the Munich Olympic Games. It focuses on the attack versus negotiation dilemma, the role of private individuals who have a special ability to influence the course of a hostage-taking, the hostages' right to self-defense, and legal limits on other tactics taken by hostages to help themselves. Also explored are the type of response and legal liability of police agencies involved in a hostage-taking situation, what hostages are potential litigants, identifying a defendant in such litigation, and the choice of a forum. Other sections of the paper review recent cases relating to the liability of government officials as well as the liability of private actors as illustrated by Curtis v. Beatrice Foods (1980). The paper includes 184 footnotes.