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Saturday, November 08, 2003

Douglas, Zeta-Jones win photo lawsuit

By BETH GARDINER The Associated Press


LONDON – The High Court on Friday ordered a celebrity magazine to pay Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones $24,220 in damages, far less than they had sought for the publication of unauthorized photos of their wedding.

The court also ordered Hello! magazine to pay $1.7 million to the owner of rival publication OK!, which had an exclusive deal for pictures of the extravagant November 2000 wedding at New York’s Plaza Hotel.

Douglas and Zeta-Jones had sought damages of $835,000 from Hello! for publishing unflattering paparazzi photos. Instead, their award was about enough to pay for a first-class roundtrip flight for two from Los Angeles to London.

Judge John Lindsay said he would settle the issue of legal costs – the possible reimbursement of legal fees to some of the parties – at a later hearing.

Hello! welcomed the small award for Douglas and Zeta-Jones.

“It reiterates clearly the decision of . . . Lindsay that Hello! at no time had any intention of damaging Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones,” the magazine said in a statement. “It emphasizes that this is not and never was a privacy case. It is a commercial matter about exclusive contracts.”

Lindsay ruled in April that Hello! violated the couple’s commercial confidence. While he said he believed the photos’ appearance had caused them emotional distress, he declined to find that Hello! had breached their right to privacy, saying that was not protected by British law.

He said he was awarding Douglas and Zeta-Jones $12,450 for distress, $11,600 for the cost of rushing authorized photos to OK! to compete with Hello! and $170 for the defendant’s violation of the Data Protection Act.

The couple said through their lawyer that they were pleased with the decision and took their action as a matter of principle.

Douglas and Zeta-Jones had a $1.67 million deal for exclusive pictures with OK!, whose publisher, Northern & Shell PLC, sought $2.8 million from Hello! in court.

Hello! said it was disappointed with the award to OK! and would almost certainly appeal that part of the judgment, which it said was damaging to press freedom.

The decision, the magazine said, put the press “on notice that whenever one media organization has an exclusive, all others are at huge risk if they cover the same ground.

“This is potentially not only anticompetitive, but also a restraint on freedom of expression.”

Lindsay said he based the award on a calculation of the losses OK! sustained and believed it would call the Hello! publisher’s attention to the magazine’s wrongdoing without stifling free expression.

Zeta-Jones testified during the trial that she felt “violated” by pictures she called “sleazy and unflattering.” She singled out an image that showed her new husband feeding her wedding cake, saying “I don’t usually like my husband shoving a spoon down my throat to be photographed.”

“The quality was what every bride would hate to have out there,” she said before a packed courtroom in February. “It was cheap and tacky and everything I didn’t want.”

Douglas and Zeta-Jones, who won an Oscar this year for her performance in the musical movie “Chicago,” insisted throughout that the case was about emotions and principle, not the large sum of money at stake.

“I get well-compensated in my job and my husband has had a long career, financially successful, and it is a lot of money maybe to a lot of people in this room, but it is not that much for us,” she testified.



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