Hello! fine proves danger of spoilers

Cartwright: to appeal against damages to OK!

Hello! publisher Sally Cartwright has warned magazine and newspaper editors to take more care when running spoilers as they could result in them paying out millions of pounds in legal costs and damages.

Her comments follow last week’s High Court ruling, which ordered Hello! to pay £1,047,756 damages to OK! for publishing secret paparazzo shots of the wedding of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas in a bid to spoil OK!’s exclusive, which was due to appear three days later.

The Hollywood couple had claimed £600,000 for damage to their commercial rights as well as personal distress for Hello!’s breach of the £1m deal with OK! of their wedding in New York three years ago.

But the High Court ruled against awarding substantial damages and instead ordered Hello! to pay them just £14,600.

Although Hello! has said it intended to appeal against the damages to OK!, Cartwright warned editors to think twice before running spoilers in future. “People will have to be a great deal more careful and this applies to newspapers as well as magazines,” she told Press Gazette. “The problem is that it’s effectively new law and nobody is quite sure what all the implications of it are. The obvious line is that if your competitor has a contractual arrangement with somebody for an event, then running any kind of spoiler on it is dangerous.

“If Mr Justice Lindsay’s judgment stands, there could be very heavy costs indeed. We are highly likely to appeal on the question of damages against OK! because the amount involved is substantial, but I do think it will make people much more cautious about spoilers in future.”

She added: “It means rather less to us than it does to OK!, since it has run even more spoilers than we have.”

Cartwright said the “good news” was the amount awarded to the Douglases, because it showed the case was not about creating a privacy law and was welcome news for print media. “We bear them no ill will. I wish them every success with their great and glorious careers, but I’m quite glad they’ve only got that amount of money,” she said.

Cartwright said Hello!’s Spanish proprietor Eduardo Sanchez Junco was “disappointed” with the payout to OK!, adding: “He’s only ever run one spoiler in his life and that was it.”

However, she claimed the payout was unlikely to affect journalists on Hello! “It won’t mean we won’t be able to afford to buy stories or anything like that, because Hello! has sufficiently deep pockets to be able to cope with this. But the fine, the restitution of income to OK! for over £1m, is one thing, we have yet to have the hearing on the legal costs for the whole thing and the amounts involved there, frankly, will make the fine look like small beer.”

By Ruth Addicott

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