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Hello! Magazine Wins Appeal Over Zeta-Jones, Douglas Photos

May 18 (Bloomberg) -- Celebrity magazine Hello! won its appeal of a decision ordering it to pay 1 million pounds ($1.8 million) to rival OK! for publishing ``spoiler'' photos of the 2000 wedding of film stars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The U.K. Court of Appeal today overturned a lower court ruling awarding OK the sum as damages for lost sales of its own wedding issue of the couple. Hello admitted it printed the pictures, taken in secret by a photographer who gate-crashed the ceremony, to reduce the impact of OK's exclusive contract with the pair.

``OK! Has failed to establish that Hello! had the requisite intention to establish the tort of unlawful interference with business,'' Lord Justice Nicholas Phillips said in the judgment.

Today's decision may affect the development of privacy rights in Britain, where tabloid newspapers and magazines are filled daily with photos of professional athletes and movie stars, often taken without their consent, according to media lawyers including Dan Tench, a partner at London-based law firm Olswangs. Both U.K. and European courts have recently bolstered the right of celebrities to protect their private lives.

Zeta-Jones, 35, whose hit films include ``Chicago'' and ``Traffic,'' and Douglas, 60, had signed a 1 million-pound contract with OK to snap their November 2000 wedding day at New York's Plaza Hotel. Paparazzi photographer Rupert Thorpe sold six grainy images of the ceremony, taken with a hidden camera, to Hello for 125,000 pounds.

The court upheld a 14,500-pound damages award to Zeta-Jones and Douglas for breach of the couple's right to confidence, but dismissed their appeal for a higher sum.

`Devastated'

Zeta-Jones testified at the lower court trial that she felt ``devastated, shocked and appalled'' when she found out about the photographs. She and her husband, who starred in ``Wall Street,'' had asked the court to award a total of 500,000 pounds for commercial damages and 50,000 pounds each for ``distress.''

Lawyers for Hello argued at the December appeal court hearing that the Douglases surrendered their privacy rights when they agreed to sell their wedding photos. They also claimed tabloids had to publish ``spoilers'' to succeed in a competitive industry.

Both magazines publish photographs and stories about celebrities and European royals. OK is owned by the British entrepreneur Richard Desmond, who also publishes the country's Express newspapers. Hello is owned by Hola SA of Spain, which is controlled by Eduardo Sanchez Junco.

The case is A3/2004/0330 Douglas & ors v. Hello Ltd & ors.


To contact the reporter on this story:
Megan Murphy in London at  mmurphy41@bloomberg.net.
Last Updated: May 18, 2005 05:47 EDT

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