April 29th, 2013

French Photog Could Go to Jail Over Topless Pictures

A French magazine could be shut down and a photographer sent to jail over the publication last year of photographs of Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, sunbathing while on vacation in France. The magazine, called Closer, published topless images of Middleton that were allegedly shot by photographer Valerie Suau.

French authorities are investigating the publication of the photos, which may have been a violation of French law. If charged and convicted of violating the royal couple’s privacy, Suau faces up to one year in jail and a fine up to 45,000 euros (about $60,000). Closer could be shuttered for as long as five years.

Prosecutors are also investigating Suau’s employer, a French newspaper called La Provence, which published some of the sunbathing images, although none showed Middleton topless.

The royal couple had been sunbathing on private property when Suau allegedly photographed them. The publishers of Closer have said in their defense that the images were shot from a public road.

After the images appeared in France, authorities there ordered Closer not to publish any more of them. But the images appeared in other European publications.

The suppression of the images in France and ensuing investigations reflect that country’s strict privacy laws, which bar the publication of photographs of individuals without their permission–even if the photographs are shot in a public place.

The royal family has invoked the death of Prince William’s mother–Princess Diana–to stir outrage over the sunbathing photos. The photos, according to an official statement from the royal family, are “reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.”

Princess Diana  died in a car crash in Paris in 1997. Several paparazzi and news photographers on motorcycles were chasing the car she was riding in when it crashed. Although the driver of the car was later found to have been drunk, and manslaughter charges against the photographers were dropped after an investigation, many people still blame them for the princess’s death.

Three of the photographers were eventually found guilty of violating France’s privacy laws because they photographed Princess Diana and her companion, Dodi Al Fayed, inside the car after the accident. Those photographers were ordered to pay a symbolic fine of one euro each.

September 18th, 2012

French Court Orders Magazine to Hand Over Topless Photos of Kate Middleton

Three days after a French gossip magazine published photos of Kate Middleton, Dutchess of Cambridge, sunbathing topless, a court in France has ordered the magazine’s publisher to hand over all digital copies and blocked future publication of the images in any medium. The court ruled yesterday that the tabloid Closer must hand over the images within 24 hours or face a penalty of $13,100 a day, the AP reports. The photos were taken without permission while Middleton and her husband, William the Duke of Cambridge, an heir to the British throne, were vacationing at a private home court in the South of France. The French court also fined the French branch of Closer’s publisher, Mondadori, which is owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian media mogul (and disgraced prime minister.)

Maud Sobel, a lawyer for the royal couple, said after the verdict, “We’ve been vindicated.” However, the French court’s ruling only affects Closer; the images have already been in an issue of Chi in Italy (also owned by Mondadori) and in the Independent Star of Ireland.  And who knows how many websites have reposted them.

The ruling may seem surprising. France, a country that has codified droit d’auteur, “moral rights” and other artists’ protections into law,  and hasn’t had much use for monarchs since Louis XVI was guillotined n 1793,  is siding against the press in favor of some huffy royals on the other side of the Channel.

According to the court, however, the issue at stake was the couple’s privacy.

The ruling states, “These snapshots which showed the intimacy of a couple, partially naked on the terrace of a private home, surrounded by a park several hundred meters from a public road, and being able to legitimately assume that they are protected from passers-by, are by nature particularly intrusive,” the French ruling decreed.

While the French tradition of holding artists’ rights in high regard probably dates back to  the French Revolution, its privacy laws are steeped in an even older tradition: the protection of honor.

Reviewing a new history of privacy law in The New York Times, Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor and editor at The New Republic, noted that Europe and America have always had different conceptions of privacy.

Rosen says that in the European tradition, privacy was conceived “as a way of protecting human dignity (as opposed to the American one, which is more interested in privacy as a way of protecting liberty).” Quoting scholar James Q. Whitman, Rosen notes that privacy rights grew out of a “deeply hierarchical society where all citizens knew their place and how much privacy they were entitled to demand: in such a world, privacy was for aristocrats, not for common people.”

The French court’s decision bears out Whitman’s contention: the ruling protects the honor of an aristocrat. A commoner might not have won this case. Not they would need to sue, since the breasts of us common folk aren’t tabloid fodder.