May 7, 2008

Rowling wins landmark ruling over paparazzi

HARRY Potter author JK Rowling won a landmark privacy ruling yesterday in her battle to ban further publication of a long-lens photograph taken of her son when he was 18 months old.
Rowling's lawyers said the ruling was likely to have a "profound effect" on certain sections of the paparazzi.

The author claimed her son David's right to privacy had been infringed after photographs of him were taken in an Edinburgh street while being pushed in a buggy by his parents.

The action was intended to protect David's rights to privacy and family life under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The initial claim by Rowling and her husband was thrown out by a London court last year, prompting the couple to appeal. But yesterday, in a key finding, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, said: "If a child of parents who are not in the public eye could reasonably expect not to have photographs of him published in the media, so too should the child of a famous parent."

The disputed photos, taken on 8 November, 2004, were published in a Sunday Express magazine, prompting Rowling, 42, and her husband to sue Express Newspapers and the Big Pictures photo agency, and seek to block further publication.

The Express settled the claim, but last August Nicholas Patten, a High Court judge, threw out the case against the agency.

In a statement, the parents said: "We embarked on this lawsuit not because we were seeking special privileges for our children but because we wanted them to grow up, like their friends, free from unwarranted intrusion into their privacy.

"We understand and accept that with the success of Harry Potter there will be a measure of legitimate media and public interest in Jo's professional activities and appearances.

"However, we have striven to give our children a normal family life outside the media spotlight."

They said the ruling would give their children protection from "covert, unauthorised photography" and make an "immediate and material difference to their lives".

Keith Schilling of Schillings law firm, representing Rowling's family, predicted the latest ruling could have a "profound effect ... on certain sections of the paparazzi. He said: "This case establishes a law of privacy for children in those cases where, understandably, the parents wish to protect their children from intrusive photography by the paparazzi. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of the media will welcome it."

Big Pictures will have to pay the bulk of the costs of the case, estimated at £600,000.

Last night, a spokesman for Schillings confirmed an appeal by Big Pictures, which had advance notice of the ruling, had been rejected. It can now appeal to the Lords.

Philip Schlesinger, professor of cultural policy at the University of Glasgow, said: "The bottom line is that children should not get clobbered because their parents are celebrities.

"However, despite establishing a principle, there will be a lot of grey areas ahead, especially when the children become teenagers and are doing the sort of things which would make good photographs."

In 2001, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) upheld an invasion of privacy complaint by Rowling after photographs of her daughter Jessica, then aged eight and on holiday in Mauritius, appeared in OK! magazine.


MEDIA lawyers said yesterday's ruling by the Court of Appeal was a major case establishing children's right to privacy.

This ruling is putting into law what is already in the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice, voluntarily, in relation to children.

Newspapers are aware of paragraph 6 (v) which states: "Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life."

We are now prohibited from taking pictures of children without consent – all the court has done is impose a rule of law on this.

One of the things the court looked at was the circumstances of this case. I believe the agency had sat outside Rowling's house for two days because they knew there was a professional market for that image.

The paparazzi would have known in advance that JK Rowling did not want this picture taken and they could easily have pixelated it.

But it's arguable whether someone taking a snap in the street on their mobile phone will fall foul of the law and it will depend on the circumstances of each case.

What this case says, quite simply, is that there is a right to privacy. The judge at first instance thought the parents were trying to protect themselves when it actually concerned their children.

However, if you are a celebrity such as Jordan and you brandish your child, it will be very difficult to contend that child has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

But those celebrities who don't pose for pictures will have the right to complain.

No comments: