Tiger, Kate and some musings on "privacy" cases

This Kat is intrigued by the recent increase of privacy infringement cases that have made headlines in the UK. Where have they all come from all of a sudden?

Max Mosely (see earlier IPKat post here), Sienna Miller, Tiger Woods all made headlines with privacy cases. The latest of these (potential) cases concerns Kate Middleton, Prince William's girlfriend, who reportedly has instructed solicitors, after photographs taken of her playing tennis were published in Germany. Prince William, we learn from a report published in the Telegraph, was not present when the pictures were taken. Ms Middleton appears to feel that the photographers have infringed her privacy rights and she reportedly requests that the pictures be withdrawn from publication and damages be awarded from both the photographers and the distributing agency. Again according to the Telegraph, her solicitors "have issued a warning to the photographer and to ... the agency that distributed the image" under the threat of legal proceedings.

Interestingly, the German media does not appear to have picked up on this latest privacy case at all. This is a little surprising given that privacy and personality infringement cases involving royalty and celebrities are a rather frequent occurrence in German courts. (Yes, this Kat is aware that Ms Middleton is not a member of the Royal family.) The most famous of these cases involved Princess Caroline von Hannover (also known under her maiden name: Caroline of Monaco) who took a similar matter to the European Court of Human Rights and so changed the way German law deals with privacy and personality rights infringements. In the "Caroline case" (von Hannover v. Germany, application no. 59320/00 of 26 June 2004), which concerned photographs that showed Caroline von Hannover in her everyday life, and consequently engaged in activities of a purely private nature, the European Human Right Court held that

"... (the) present case does not concern the dissemination of 'ideas', but of images containing very personal or even intimate 'information' about an individual. Furthermore, photos appearing in the tabloid press are often taken in a climate of continual harassment which induces in the person concerned a very strong sense of intrusion into their private life or even of persecution."
The Princess, it was then held, had a "legitimate expectation" that her private life would be protected. The Court also considered that the photographs had been taken without her knowledge or consent and some of them were even taken in secret. The snaps also made no contribution to a debate of public interest since they and the accompanying articles only reported on her private life. As such, the Court saw a clear violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for private life). This case law still stands. Returning to Ms Middleton's case, it is pretty obvious that - depending on the actual circumstances - there could certainly be an arguable case of an Article 8 infringement or breach of privacy.

But what do our readers think? Looking at this case and Tiger Woods' recent injunction in the UK (granted by high court judge Mr Justice David Eady) against the publication of details about his private life. Details, one should add, which you can still read about in the US media via the Internet. Is this the way the law should work? Of course, Tiger Woods, was marketing his public persona through sponsorship deals and very much made his outwardly happy family life part of his public image, whereas Ms Middleton is a private person who happens to be in a relationship with a member of the Royal family. So, where do we draw the line?

Does anyone think that these privacy cases could have a chilling effect on free media reporting (see here for an interesting overview published in the Times)? Should people in the public eye be able to control what is published about them or should they be protected from intrusion by the media? Does privacy protection go far enough in this country or is there need for improvement and Max Mosley's quest to revamp privacy laws (see the IPKat earlier report here) should be supported?

If you have any comments, please post them below.
Tiger, Kate and some musings on "privacy" cases Tiger, Kate and some musings on "privacy" cases Reviewed by Birgit Clark on Thursday, January 14, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. I think that the long-used principle that it is fine to pop the bubble of celebrity by exposing the public image as a sham is probably right from a moral point of view.

    We each have an expectation that parts of our life are private. If we are high profile, and base ourselves on a particular "backstory" then we can expect that any incongruety in that area may be exposed in due course. The confirmation that we do in fact live normal lives is unlikely to figure in that rung of importance, and so a picture of a celebrity eating a sandwich is unlikely to be justified unless it is Flipper eating a sandwich where the tuna isn't dolphin-friendly.

    As has been said before, there is a difference between those things the public are interested in and the smaller subset that is the public interest. The pursuit of the first is about money; the second has a more laudable basis.

  2. the tiger woods injunction is plain silly. good on the germans if they don't follow down the same route!

  3. They wanted to take pictures of Kate having her Christmas dinner - that takes it too far, surely?

  4. For an interesting tweak on the topic, with a stronger IP (copyright) angle, see my article:



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