Case update: Newspaper liable for publishing pictures of star’s children online

2 May 2014

In the case of (1) Dylan Weller (2) John Paul Weller (3) Bowie Weller (by their litigation friend Paul Weller) v Associated Newspapers Ltd [2014] EWHC 1163 (QB), the High Court found that there had been a misuse of private information and a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 where an online newspaper had published, without consent, un-pixelated photographs of a well-known singer's three children enjoying a family day out. 

Facts

This case concerns the well-known musician, Paul Weller (P). Various photographs had been taken of P and his children (C) whilst they were shopping in the street and relaxing at a cafe in California. A newspaper publisher (N) subsequently published the photographs online before removing them one day later.

P, acting on behalf of C as their father and litigation friend, brought proceedings against N for damages for misuse of private information and breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

The issues for the court were:

  • The relevant legal tests to be applied, in the light of the various developments of the law on misuse of private information.
  • The effect on the tests to be applied of the law of the location at which the photographs were taken; and
  • Whether C's claims were made out.

Held

The High Court found that N’s conduct amounted to a breach of the Data Protection Act and misuse of private information.

In reaching its decision, the court applied the principles laid down in in Murray v Express Newspapers Plc [2008] EWCA Civ 446, [2009] Ch. 481, being:

  • Whether there was a "reasonable expectation of privacy"; and
  • How the balance should be struck between an individual's right to privacy on the one hand and a publisher's right to publish on the other.

Applying the above principles, the court found the photographs to have been published in circumstances where C had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Further, although it had been lawful to take the photographs, and it would have been lawful to publish them in California, that did not prevent C having a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to their publication in the English jurisdiction.

Important factors for the court when balancing C’s right to privacy against N’s right to freedom of expression included: the fact that the photographs were of C's faces, the range of emotions that were displayed, and the fact that the children were identified by their surname.

The court urged that N should offer an undertaking not to publish the photographs again to provide clarity for the parties, and in those circumstances it was not necessary to grant injunctive relief.

Katie Allard

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