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Hello! History in the making?
- ‘Spoiler’ case sizzles

London, Dec. 14: Three appeal judges were asked yesterday to put a price on what may prove to be the most expensive ‘spoiler’ in media history when Hello! magazine challenged the figure of more than £1 million it was ordered to pay for publishing blurred photographs taken at the wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Damages of £1,033,156 and partial costs were awarded by the high court last year to the magazine’s rival, OK!, for breach of confidence. The couple had sold OK! exclusive rights to publish approved pictures taken at their wedding in November 2000 at the Plaza Hotel, New York.

But Hello! published unauthorised paparazzi photographs of the event, admitting it had done so as a “spoiler” — a move to lessen the impact of its rival’s exclusive. James Price, counsel , for Hello! told the Court of Appeal yesterday that “spoilers” were a well-known tactic in the newspaper and magazine industry and his own clients had been victims in the past. “This was something previously not considered unlawful. We are in the position that if you are going to compete in this industry you have to publish spoilers. But what happened to Hello! was that it was caught by a law which said ‘stop it’ retrospectively.”

Hello! is challenging both its liability and the size of the damages. The figure of £1,033,156, representing OK!’s loss of revenue, was decided by Justice Lindsay in November 2003. The judge had found Hello! liable to OK! and the couple in April 2003. In addition, Hello! was ordered to pay three-quarters of OK!’s costs.

Douglas and Zeta-Jones were each awarded £3,750 for their distress at seeing unauthorised pictures of themselves in Hello!, and £7,000 between them for the inconvenience of having to approve pictures for publication earlier than intended and £50 each under the Data Protection Act.

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