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Press & publishing  |  Special report: press and privacy

Zeta Jones gets costs but may end up paying out 1m

Owen Gibson
Friday January 23, 2004


Douglas and Zeta-Jones
Douglas and Zeta Jones: sued Hello! for publishing covert pictures of their wedding and upstaging a 1m deal with OK!
 
Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas were today awarded three-quarters of the estimated 4m cost of their long-running court battle against Hello! magazine, but are still likely to end up out of pocket overall.

But today's judgment will also hit Hello! hard, as the magazine has already been ordered to pay 1m-plus damages to rival OK! for scuppering its exclusive deal with the Douglases and publishing snatched photos of their wedding.

The celebrity title is facing a total bill of 3.5m - it must pay three-quarters of the couple's estimated 2m legal costs plus the 1m it spent on defending the case and 1m-plus damages.

OK! today hit out at Hello! because it was still trying to justify its conduct on the grounds that rivals have always tried to spoil exclusives.

"Such conduct is and has always been illegal and it is astonishing that Hello! are unable to grasp the gravity of their misconduct in spite of being severely criticised by a success of judges," said Maninder Gill, legal director at Northern & Shell, publisher of OK!.

But lawyers for Hello! today said they expected a later hearing to reduce the Douglases' costs claim to just 50%.

"They [the Douglases] will end up paying 1m. All in all it is the most ludicrous waste of money and the sort of thing that gives litigation a bad name," said Matthew Higdon, partner at Hello! solicitors M Law.

"They recovered 3,750 each - that was their damages; she [Zeta Jones] claimed 1m was not a lot of money and now she's going to have to pay it. This case shouldn't even have been brought," he added.

The Hollywood couple last year sued Hello! for publishing covert pictures of their wedding and upstaging a 1m exclusive deal with rival OK!.

In a pyrrhic victory, Zeta Jones and Douglas won 14,600 in damages, including 3,750 each for "hurt feelings" after claiming they were "violated" by the pictures, but today learned they would have to pay a quarter of the costs of the case, leaving them a potential financial loser in the case.

"Today's judgment reflects the fact that the Douglases and OK lost nine of their 14 claims. However you look at it, they're almost certain to end up out of pocket," Chris Hutchings, the solicitor acting for Hello!, told Sky News immediately following the verdict.

The small payout was a fraction of the 600,000 the couple had sought in damages and was dwarfed by the 1m Hello! was forced to pay OK! for scuppering its exclusive deal.

The snatched pictures were taken by photographer Rupert Thorpe, son of the former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, who gatecrashed the wedding at the New York Plaza hotel in November 2000.

During the high court case, Douglas said seeing the unauthorised pictures had been a "truly gut-wrenching and very disturbing experience, which left both of us deeply upset", while Zeta Jones complained that the shots were tacky and made her look fat.

They argued that they were bringing the case on a matter of principle and were not interested in the money. "It's a lot of money to the people in this room but it's not a lot of money to us," said Zeta Jones, telling the court of their 1m deal with OK!.

In his original ruling Judge Lindsay threw out nine of the Douglases' 14 claims but said they were entitled to damages under the law of confidence and data protection and granted an injunction to prevent further publication of the pictures.

However, while some media organisations feared the case could have implications for privacy law, in the event lawyers said it was a simple case of commercial compensation.

Hello! is to appeal against the original ruling, arguing it sets a dangerous precedent for magazines and newspapers planning to run spoilers against their rivals.

"It is true Hello! has paid 1m in damages and together with the costs will amount to a substantial sum. We will mount an appeal, which should take place in the autumn. It has very serious implications for the media," said Mr Hutchings.

"As it stands, where one media organisation has an exclusive they have a monopoly on that information, even after it has been published."

· To contact the MediaGuardian newsdesk email editor@mediaguardian.co.uk or phone 020 7239 9857

· If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".


 Damages claim
16.01.2004: Hello! to appeal Zeta Jones payout
07.11.2003: Lawyers unfazed by stars' low damages
07.11.2003: Hollywood stars win 14,600 damages from Hello!
22.07.2003: Hello! Zeta Jones pictures 'blew away' OK!
16.07.2003: Douglases and OK! seek up to 2m
16.07.2003: 100,000 claim over Zeta Jones pictures
16.05.2003: July date set for Zeta Jones damages hearing

 The verdict
11.04.2003: Zeta Jones wins high court battle
11.04.2003: Full summary of judgment

 The case explained
11.04.2003: How the Hello! spoiler went wrong

 Reaction
12.04.2003: Zeta Jones victory raises threat of privacy law
11.04.2003: Zeta Jones judge warns over privacy law
11.04.2003: Madonna's PR and Max Clifford on the ruling
11.04.2003: OK! hails 'historic' victory
11.04.2003: Case means end of road for spoilers

 The QCs
11.04.2003: Legal eagles: Tugendhat and Price

 Comment
14.04.2003: Keith Schilling: Private lessons
11.04.2003: Crisis of confidence: a lawyer writes
11.04.2003: The media must heed this warning shot: a lawyer writes

 Reporting of the case
16.04.2003: Desmond complains at Standard coverage

 How the high court action unfolded
09.04.2003: Zeta Jones verdict due on Friday
10.03.2003: Hello! accused of 'unpleasant' wedding coverage
07.03.2003: Zeta Jones offered wedding 'slice'
07.03.2003: Hello! treated marquesa like a 'doormat'
04.03.2003: Zeta Jones wedding photos 'sold to porn magazine'
04.03.2003: Stars sought to 'control publicity'
18.02.2003: Hello! boss admits to 'misunderstanding'
17.02.2003: Stars 'exaggerated distress', says Hello!
14.02.2003: Hello! attacks 'obsessive' rival
14.02.2003: Zeta Jones wanted money not privacy, says Hello! boss
13.02.2003: Marquesa: 'Hello! boss asked me to lie'
13.02.2003: Stars 'childish' over wedding
12.02.2003: A New York hotel 'could never be private'
12.02.2003: Hello!'s fixer is 'impetuous'
12.02.2003: Hello! 'did not conspire with paparazzi'
12.02.2003: Rod Liddle: Don't let them eat cake
11.02.2003: Zeta Jones hired three security firms for wedding
11.02.2003: Hello! defends use of wedding pictures
11.02.2003: Hello! spoiler cost OK! dear
11.02.2003: Press turns on Zeta Jones
10.02.2003: Douglas: we don't have to 'play ball' with media
11.02.2003: Catherine Zeta Jones' statement
10.02.2003: Zeta Jones accused of over-reacting
10.02.2003: Douglas: we guard our privacy closely
10.02.2003: Zeta Jones: 1m is 'not that much'
10.02.2003: Zeta Jones: I didn't sell my privacy
10.02.2003: Zeta Jones: paparazzi are 'game-hunters'
10.02.2003: Douglas hits out at 'peeping toms'
10.02.2003: Zeta Jones: 'devastated' by paparazzi
10.02.2003: Hollywood comes to town
10.02.2003: Matt Wells: Privacy goes to Hollywood
05.02.2003: Press spoilers 'are commonplace', court told
05.02.2003: Weddings are 'public occasions' says Zeta Jones judge
04.02.2003: Douglases 'forfeited right to privacy'
04.02.2003: Stars and celebrity mags act out their own court drama
04.02.2003: Zeta Jones hires ex-Sunday Times journalist for PR brief
03.02.2003: Douglases gave 'qualified consent' to photos
03.02.2003: Thorpe's son named in Zeta Jones case
03.02.2003: Hello! in 'covert' operation to get wedding pics
03.02.2003: Hollywood stars prepare for battle

 Preliminary hearings
28.01.2003: Zeta Jones worried about 'unflattering' photos
27.01.2003: Bid to delay Hollywood stars' court case
16.01.2003: Hello! case will be media circus
21.12.2000: Zeta Jones to sue Hello!
21.12.2000: Zeta Jones free to sue Hello!

 MediaGuardian.co.uk special report
Press and privacy




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