By Sally Pook
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas were awarded just £14,600 in damages yesterday after Hello! published unauthorised paparazzi photographs of their New York wedding.
The sum was a fraction of the amount they had originally sought from the celebrity magazine for the "real distress" they claimed to have suffered over the publication of the illicit pictures.
OK! magazine, which had an exclusive deal with the celebrity couple to publish their wedding photographs, was awarded more than £1 million.
Zeta-Jones, 33, whose latest film is the Coen brothers' Intolerable Cruelty, said she felt "violated" and was reduced to tears when she discovered a photographer had infiltrated the reception at the Plaza Hotel in New York and taken several badly-lit and out-of-focus pictures.
The actress, who won an Oscar for her role in Chicago, told the High Court earlier this year that the photographs were cheap and tacky. Mr Douglas, 58, described them as seedy and voyeuristic.
The pictures were taken by Rupert Thorpe, a paparazzo who gatecrashed the wedding in November 2000 despite massive security measures. He sold his photographs for £125,000 to Hello! via a middleman.
Their publication ruined the Hollywood couple's £1 million deal with OK! magazine, a contract that allowed the rival publication exclusive rights to their wedding photographs.
The couple's barrister, Alastair Wilson, QC, told the High Court at an earlier hearing that the incident was similar to a burglary.
"You should take into account the huge care in this case to preserve privacy," he said. "These are potent factors that push the damages a long way above what might otherwise be the norm."
During the long-running legal battle, the couple originally sought a total of £600,000 from Hello!.
They wanted £50,000 each for personal damages and another £500,000 in "notional royalties", which they said was the amount the magazine would have had to pay them if they had agreed to let the publication use pictures of the wedding.
OK! originally wanted £1.75 million in compensation for lost sales and advertising revenue after its rival spoiled its exclusive deal.
A judge had already ruled, in April, that Hello! was wrong to publish the pictures. Yesterday, Mr Justice Lindsay awarded the Douglases a total of £14,600 in personal damages.
OK! magazine was awarded £1,033,156 for commercial damage to its exclusive coverage of the wedding. The judge said the size of the award might make Hello! "alive to the unwisdom of acting as it did".
Despite the small amount awarded to the Douglases, which will be donated to the Family Learning Centre, lawyers for the couple and OK! said in a statement that the award was "historic".
They said the damages awarded to the magazine would be shared with the couple. "The Douglases and OK! have pursued their complaint since day one as a joint action and view the damages to be a joint award to compensate us," the lawyers said in a statement.
"Had Hello! respected our rights neither the Douglases nor OK! magazine would have needed to pursue our claims in this costly and long-drawn-out action.
"Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones took the action as a matter of principle and are delighted that this ruling vindicated theirs and OK!'s position establishing their rights to the protection of the law."
Hello! said it was "very happy" that the total award to the Douglases was £14,600 but disappointed by the £1 million-plus award to OK! and it would appeal against this part of the judgment.
Sally Cartwright, publishing director of Hello!, said the damages bill, plus any future court costs, would not threaten the magazine's future.
She said the judge had awarded the Douglases just £3,750 each for distress - the rest being for expenses and a nominal amount for data protection.
This was never a privacy case, she said, and the award reflected the fact that the magazine never intended to harm the couple.
She added: "It is also alarming to all print media that the financial consequences to Hello! of following the normal practice of the UK media, namely running a spoiler, should be so great.
"Hello! has itself suffered exactly the same treatment at the hands of OK! in the past, and it did not occur to us that the right course of action was to sue." She said the ruling was not only anti-competitive but also a restraint on freedom of expression.
The outstanding issue of who must pay the legal costs, estimated at £4 million, will be settled at a later hearing.
Zeta-Jones and Douglas were not at court for the hearing in London yesterday.
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