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Royals win first battle in privacy brouhaha
French ruling on pictures limited
LONDON — Prince William and Kate Middleton’s aggressive legal strategy regarding topless photos of Britain’s likely future queen is the first salvo in what could be a decades-long tug of war over their family’s privacy.
A French court ruled in favor of the royal couple on Tuesday in their fight over the photos, but the scope of that ruling will be limited.
The unauthorized photos of Kate sunbathing topless already have been widely published in France, Italy, Ireland and on the Internet — lessening the impact of Tuesday’s court injunction against future publication inside France.
The royals’ strong stance also included a bid to persuade French prosecutors to launch a criminal inquiry to target the offending photographer.
The royal couple did not gain much on paper — the court-imposed fine was about $2,500 — but legal experts and royal watchers say the action was designed to demonstrate their willingness to use all legal means to prevent future press intrusion.
“They want to send a warning to anybody who might think of doing something similar in the future,” he said.
The fast legal intervention, which developed within hours of the publication of the photos Friday in a French gossip magazine, represents a break from Queen Elizabeth II’s traditional policy of using legal action only as a means of last resort. It also reflects William’s determination not to let the press harass Kate as it did his mother, Princess Diana, Mr. Little said.
Still, the case shows the unlikelihood of controlling photos through legal means once they have been published.
Closer magazine was ordered to turn over all of its digital copies of the photos, but that has little meaning in a world where millions of copies can be made and distributed in the blink of an eye.
The revealing pictures will follow Kate for the rest of her life — not unlike the snapshots of her appearance in a charity fashion show wearing black lingerie and a sheer dress during her university days.
“Clearly, the harm has been done,” said Christopher Mesnooh, an American lawyer working in France for Field Fisher Waterhouse. “Thousands, now tens of thousands of copies, are now in public circulation. A legal decision is a wonderful thing to obtain and the royal couple did exactly what they should have done. But you know the magazine is out there and I suspect most of you have already seen copies of that magazine, so the basic, the initial harm, has been done.”
He said magazine executives had concluded in advance they had little to fear from an adverse court ruling when they decided to print the photographs, obtained by a photographer who trained a long lens on the royal couple as they sunbathed on a private estate in southern France.
“Closer magazine has done a very sophisticated cost-benefit analysis,” Mr. Mesnooh said. “Whatever the amount of damages that a French court will award, it will be a fraction of the publicity that the magazine will have gained, as well as the number of issues of this particular issue of Closer magazine which will be sold.”
Tuesday’s ruling only affects the French magazine branch of Mondadori, Closer’s publisher. A French court ordered it to hand over all digital copies of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge within 24 hours and blocked further publication of what it called a “brutal display” of William and Kate’s private moments.
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