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Douglas v Hello! Ltd 2005 | Intellectual Property

Douglas v Hello! Ltd (2005) EWCA Civ 595 is a significant legal case in the UK involving the unauthorised publication of photographs from the wedding of the celebrities Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. This case revolved around issues related to the right of privacy, breach of confidence, and contractual obligations.

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones had entered into an exclusive contract with OK! Magazine worth £1,000,000 to cover their wedding, which took place in 2000 at the Plaza Hotel in New York. This contract granted OK! Magazine the exclusive rights to publish photographs of the wedding. The couple had the authority to approve the selection of photographs to be used in the magazine. To ensure the exclusivity of their coverage, strict security measures were implemented, including restricting the taking of photographs by guests and closing the event to the media.

Despite these measures, a freelance photographer named Rupert Thorpe managed to infiltrate the wedding and take unauthorised photographs of the couple. These unauthorised images were subsequently sold to Hello! Magazine, a rival publication that had previously attempted to obtain the rights to the wedding photographs.

In the initial legal proceedings, Douglas v Hello! (2001), the Douglases and OK! Magazine sought an injunction to prevent the publication of unauthorised photographs. They made claims based on breach of confidence, invasion of privacy, breach of the Data Protection Act 1998, and allegations of intention to damage and conspiracy to injure. However, the successful claims were only breach of confidence and breach of the Data Protection Act.The High Court granted an injunction, but this decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal.

In the subsequent appeal, Douglas v Hello! (2005), the Court of Appeal ruled that OK! Magazine retained confidence in publishing the photographs approved by the Douglases but maintained a right to privacy concerning the remaining photographs. The only way OK! Magazine could seek damages against Hello! Magazine was through a claim for breach of confidence.

This case was ultimately send to the House of Lord in OBG Ltd v Allan (2007) which combined three economic tort cases together, along with Mainstream Properties Ltd v Young. The House of Lords, in a 3-2 judgment, agreed that the wedding photographs were confidential, that circumstances of confidence existed, and that the publication of the photographs had been detrimental to OK! Magazine.

This case became significant in defining the legal boundaries of privacy, confidentiality, and the rights of parties involved in similar contractual agreements, especially in the context of high-profile events like celebrity weddings.

You can learn more about this topic with our Intellectual Property notes.

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