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The sun, privacy and Rocknroll

Mr Justice Briggs has handed down a written judgment in Rocknroll v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2013] EWHC 24 (Ch) which serves as a helpful reminder of the issues the court will consider in deciding whether the publication of photographs should be prohibited on privacy grounds.

In 2010 the Claimant Edward Rocknroll attended a private fancy dress party.  A fellow guest at the party had taken photographs, which included the Claimant in a state of partial undress.  The Claimant had consented to the photographs being taken at the time.  The photographs were subsequently published on Facebook.  In December 2012 the Claimant came to wider public attention after marrying the actress Kate Winslet.  The photographs fell into the hands of The sun which in early January of this year gave Mr Rocknroll notification of its intention to publish them (indicating that the lower part of his body would be pixulated).  Mr Rocknroll sought an injunction prohibiting The sun from publishing the photographs on the basis that he was the copyright owner and that he had a right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  On 7 January 2013 Briggs J heard legal argument from lawyers on both sides.

Lawyers for the Claimant argued that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy as the photographs (1) had been taken at a private party on private premises, (2) contributed nothing to any debate of public interest and (3) risked causing the Claimants wife and her children harm and distress if published.  Lawyers for the Defendant newspaper argued that (1) the Claimant had made himself a public figure and thus had a restricted expectation of privacy (2), the Claimant had courted publicity about his personal life in the past, (3) the photographs, which had been taken by consent, had been in the public domain previously - on Facebook (4) the behaviour of the Claimant, whilst not unlawful, could be criticised and thus was a legitimate subject for public debate.

Briggs J found in favour of the Claimant, holding, inter alia, that there was clearly a legitimate expectation of privacy and real risk of distress being caused to the Claimant and his new family if the photographs were published.  It was well-established that individuals did not waive their right to private life by virtue of being in the public domain.  The fact that the photographs had been on Facebook was not persuasive; they had since been removed and could not easily be found elsewhere on the internet.

On the issue of legitimate public debate the judge made the following remarks:-

Clearly, publication of conduct may contribute to genuine public debate even though the conduct is not unlawful, but it by no means follows that the court must abdicate any attempt to assess, on the facts of a particular case, whether publication is sought genuinely to inform public debate, or rather merely to titillate the undoubted interest of a section of the public in the sexual or other private peccadillos of prominent persons.

Accordingly, an injunction prohibiting the publication, description or copying of the photographs was granted until trial.

A full copy of the judgment can be found here.


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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.