A court ruling last Tuesday in France isn’t likely to stop paparazzi from pursuing celebrities for candid photos to sell to media outlets, but it might at least make some of them think before invading personal privacy to do so.
A court in Nanterre, France ruled that photographers and gossip magazine executives violated the privacy of Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge by taking and publishing photos of her sunbathing topless back in 2012.
Two executives of the French gossip magazine Closer were fined the maximum of 45,000 euros ($53,500) for publishing the photos. The executives, along with two photographers for a celebrity photo agency, were collectively ordered to pay 50,000 euros ($59,500) in damages to the former Kate Middleton and the same amount to her husband, Prince William.
While the damages awarded were reportedly well below what the royals had sought, the court victory provided a certain measure of justice. The timing was particularly apt since just last week had marked the 20th anniversary of the death of William’s mother, Princess Diana, in a crash in Paris while she was being pursued by paparazzi.
The court heard that the pictures of the duchess were taken in September 2012 while she and Prince William were on a patio at a private estate in France’s southern Provence region. The photographers used telephoto lenses to take the candid photos.
The royal family was understandably outraged when the photos wound up in Closer and in a French regional newspaper.
The violation of the royals’ privacy was the issue in the lawsuit against the publications and the photographers.
In an Associated Press story Tuesday, Christopher Mesnooh, a corporate lawyer in France, was quoted as saying he wasn’t surprised that the court sided with William and Kate.
“France has very strict privacy laws,” said Mesnooh. “And the photographs that have been published back in 2012 in Closer magazine were clearly taken while the royal couple was on a personal holiday, so there was no way of saying that this was in a public domain. So it was clear that the magazine was going to be found guilty of invasion of privacy.”
This is far from the first time photographers have overstepped their bounds to secure photos of celebrities. A case similar to the Duchess of Cambridge’s experience took place in 2003, when actress Jennifer Aniston successfully settled a lawsuit over published pictures of her sunbathing topless at her Malibu home that were taken in spite of an eight-foot wall around the home.
Celebrities often receive little sympathy when they complain about their lack of privacy from prying eyes and nosy photographers. It’s pointed out that their often considerable financial success is linked to the high profile they enjoy because of the media attention.
While it’s true that attention from the public and the media comes with the territory when you’re a public figure, there are limits. Even celebrities and other public figures deserve their times of privacy, too, especially when they’re at home.
When photographers ignore the bounds of good taste — if not the law — by taking particularly private photos such as celebrities sunbathing topless, they are clearly going too far. Such actions deserve punishment.
Privacy is hard to come by in today’s digital world, but efforts should still be made to protect it even for those with very public lives.