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Ruling reduces risk on spoilers

Published: Thursday, May 19, 2005

By Dominic Ponsford

The Appeal Court ruling means that publishers risk thousands rather than millions if they run "spoiler" photography which invades celebrities' privacy.

And it has major commercial considerations for the value of exclusive deals with newspapers and magazines.

Dan Tench, a partner at solicitors Olswang, said: "It makes the situation very much more attractive for the press.

It means if you sneak into someone's wedding and it's a matter of damages, they are going to be fairly moderate.

"If you are talking about £25,000 for the loss of an arm, the figure is going to be thousands or tens of thousands and less than the commercial value of these pictures."

Martin Soames, from DLA Piper, said: "As far as the law of privacy is concerned, this has been overtaken by events. The Naomi Campbell versus Daily Mirror case established a law of privacy.

"But it has wide-ranging consequences in terms of paying for exclu-sives. If you do a deal with somebody on the basis of an exclusive for which you pay a lot of money, as Jordan has recently done for her wedding, on the basis of this decision rival magazines could run a spoiler by putting somebody in the wedding and not be liable for damages."

At the weekend it was reported that glamour model Jordan and Peter Andrehave signed a £1.75m deal with OK! to publish their wedding photos. According to a report in The People, ex-SAS soldiers have been hired to stop guests smuggling cameras into the ceremony.

Chris Hutchings, from Hello! lawyers M Law, said: "This was a spat between two rival publishers and not between Hello! and the Douglases. The judgment is a resounding win for Hello!.

"The focus of this case was not about privacy, it was about commerce and in particular the common practice of editorial spoilers. As a result of our win, Richard Desmond will now have to write a cheque to Hello! for a very large amount of money indeed."

He added: "The recovery of damages totalling £14,600 [for the Douglases] has involved legal costs in excess of £3m.

Hello! offered to settle the case three years ago, but that offer was rejected.

"Catherine Zeta Jones famously said in her evidence that £1m was not very much money to her. To fork out three times that amount to recover less than £15,000 defies all logic. This is a case that should never have come to court."