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Hello! says goodbye to $2m in payout

By Owen Boycott

November 9, 2003

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The celebrity magazine Hello! has been ordered to pay more than 1 million ($A2.3 million) to the rival glossy OK! for publishing snatched paparazzi pictures of the wedding of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas.

The award for commercial damages because of lost sales, made by the High Court in London, dwarfed the payments of 3750 granted to each of the Hollywood actors for their hurt feelings.

The total bill for the trial, which Hello! may eventually have to pay, could be 5 million. A further two-day hearing on the issue of costs has yet to be arranged.

The case, brought as a breach of commercial confidence, has been followed by media and lawyers monitoring the courts' approach to broader questions of invasion of privacy.

Justice Lindsay said he "failed to understand" several of the Douglases claims. He almost cut in half the couple's estimate of the additional costs they had incurred and awarded them a "nominal" 50 each under the UK's Data Protection Act. The couple received a total of 14,600.

At an earlier hearing Alastair Wilson, QC, told the judge the Douglases were entitled to damages not only for the damage caused to their commercial rights but also for the distress they had suffered.

The judge agreed that any wedding was an exceptional event for bride and groom, and just because Douglas, 58, and Zeta-Jones, 33, were public figures it did not lessen their right to complain about intrusion. There was no doubt the couple had suffered distress, the judge added.

Lawyers acting for the couple yesterday welcomed the award as "a matter of principle" and said the actors would donate their damages to charity.

Most of yesterday's judgement, however, focused on the estimated loss incurred by OK!, which had an exclusive contract with the Douglases to cover the ceremony in New York in November 2000.

- Guardian

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