The English High Court recently granted an injunction preventing the Sun newspaper from publishing photographs of actress Kate Winslet’s new husband, Edward “Ned” Rocknroll, which a friend of his had posted on Facebook.
The photographs, which showed Mr Rocknroll partially naked at a fancy dress party in 2010, were taken by a guest at the party, Mr Pope, and had, until recent changes in Mr Pope’s privacy settings on the social network, been visible only to Mr Pope’s Facebook friends.
The photos came to the attention of the Sun newspaper just after Mr Rocknroll’s secret marriage to Kate Winslet. A reporter from the Sun informed him that the newspaper intended publishing the photos, together with a description of their contents, with the lower half of Mr Rocknroll’s body pixelated.
Mr Rocknroll discovered the source of the photographs and obtained an assignment of Mr Pope’s copyright in them. He then applied for an injunction to restrain both their publication and a description of their contents in the Sun, relying both upon his status as copyright owner and upon his right to privacy under the European Human Rights Convention.
The Court found that he had a good chance of establishing at trial that he has a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the photos and their contents, despite the limited circulation they had already achieved on Facebook, and that he was likely to succeed in vindicating his European human right to privacy. The judge decided that the consequences of publication, including risk of harm and distress to Ms Winslet’s children, contributed to a conclusion that Mr Rocknroll’s privacy should prevail. The judge also said that privacy rights are particularly likely to be engaged by a threat to publish photographs and that public figures are entitled to the enjoyment of such rights on the same basis as anyone else.
The judge stated that If Mr Rocknroll were to succeed on the copyright issue alone i.e. that publication of the photos without his permission would infringe his copyright in them, that would only stop the newspaper copying the photos themselves rather than the publication of a description of their content.
The Court restrained the reporter, until the trial of the matter, from publishing or copying the photos and from publishing or otherwise communicating a description of their contents.