Massive media attention is expected to focus on London’s High Court next week when Hollywood stars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are scheduled to take centre stage in their battle with Hello! over use of unauthorised snatched photographs of their wedding.
The build-up to the main show began this week with lawyers for Zeta-Jones, Douglas and Hello! rival OK! setting out their case for compensation over what happened. A deal had been struck beforehand for OK! to use authorised photographs.
Lawyers for Hello! also for the first time indicated the shape of their defence and their claim that no one is entitled to a penny in respect of use of the snatched pictures, which were taken by photographer Rupert Thorpe, 33-year-old son of former Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe, after he gatecrashed the party.
The court was told at the opening of the case that Douglas and Zeta-Jones were “deeply distressed” at use of the unauthorised pictures and were determined that Hello! should not be allowed to get off “scot-free”.
The case is one which brings sharply into focus the question of whether snatched photographs amount to a breach of privacy, especially in circumstances where agreement has been reached for publication of authorised pictures.
The claim by Douglas, Zeta-Jones and OK! publisher Northern & Shell is against Hello! Ltd, Hola SA (the Spanish edition of the magazine), proprietor Eduardo Sanchez Junco, media consultant the Marquesa De Varela and her company Neneta Overseas Ltd and photographer Philip Ramey.
However, in its defence papers Hello! says that the deliberate seeking of publicity destroys confidentiality in respect of personal information for which publicity is sought.
Douglas and Zeta-Jones are claiming £500,000 in respect of alleged invasion of their privacy and additional damages for the distress they say they suffered. In addition, OK! magazine is suing for £1.75m for lost sales and syndication rights.
However, Hello! claims that the OK! claim is “disproportionate and inequitable and contrary to good sense”.
And it says the pictures it published were accurate and could not therefore cause the substantial distress the couple claim they caused.
Hello! says the photographs they used could scarcely be considered offensive by a fair-minded person in view of the couple’s decision that pictures vetted by them could be published in OK!.
By Roger Pearson