Hello! lawyers: Lords ruling opens floodgates for celebs to control info

The House of Lords has given celebrities a new right, not just to privacy, but to control the way information about them is used.

This was the assessment of the lawyers for Hello! in the wake of that magazine's legal defeat by OK! in the long-running copyright row between the two titles.

The dispute stems from pictures taken by a paparazzo of the Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones wedding and published by Hello! despite the fact that OK! had paid £1.5 million for the exclusive.

In June 2005, the Appeal Court ordered OK! to repay more than £1 million compensation it had previously been awarded by the High Court.

But last Wednesday that decision was again overturned by the House of Lords.

The costs for both parties are estimated to run to as much as £10 million and Chris Hutchings of M Law, representing Hello!, has predicted that costs could eventually be split equally between the two magazines.

He said: "OK!'s appeal has given birth to a new right, not previously recognised in the United Kingdom, available to celebrities allowing them to control what information – not just images – is available to the public, by selling ‘exclusive' rights to one publisher or media organisation.

"The case brought by the Douglases and OK! magazine, coming up for its seventh anniversary in October, concerns publication by Hello! of six poor-quality paparazzi photos of the wedding.

"No judge or lawyer has been able to find any information in Hello!'s pictures not contained in the hundreds of air-brushed images for which OK! paid the Douglases £1.5 million.

"OK!'s appeal creates a new precedent, which will be used in increasingly diverse situations to prevent alternative coverage by any publisher or other media which do not own the exclusive rights. This will create strict monopolies in stories and events."

But Paul Ashford, the editorial director of Express Newspapers, which owns OK! said: "We felt it was outrageous that Hello! magazine entered a private event under false pretences and subsequently misled the court with perjured evidence. But we stuck at it and got the result we wanted.

"The implications for journalism are by and large good. You had Phil Hall (ex-editor of Hello!) on TV and he said it was a sad day for freedom of speech.

"It seemed to me to say that certain private events were allowed to do contracts and give access to a preferred party and legally prevent others people from muscling in. And now this judgment gives celebrities the freedom to do that.

"Without that, celebrities would simply have clammed up and would not have given that access to the public.

"I don't think that it will make these deals more expensive at all. I have done many contracts on the basis of exclusive events and you don't modify the price just because you think someone is going to steal in and get blurred pictures.

"We're not talking about the Profumo affair. We're talking about the private affairs of a celebrity actress who didn't want to feel violated on her wedding day.

"There was no public interest or great story to be told, but a private story that otherwise the celebrity might not feel they want to be told. If the celebrity were not allowed to do it on their own terms, they would not do it at all."

According to OK!, the main cost for both sides will end up being paid for by Hello!

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