The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have instructed lawyers at London firm Harbottle & Lewis to start proceedings against Mondadori, publishers of Closer France, after they printed topless pictures of Kate Middleton taken while she and her husband were on a private holiday in Provence.
The images were taken by a local paparazzo photographer who sold them to the French celebrity ‘people’ magazine.
Italian gossip magazine Chi, also owned by the Berlusconi owned Mondadori group, has also published the pictures in Italy. The same Italian magazine was at the centre of controversy in 2006 after it published a black and white picture of Princess Diana receiving oxygen after the fatal car-crash.
The royals are seeking a criminal conviction with prosecutors in Paris as the images breached France’s Criminal Code. Punishment for a criminal prosecution can be up to a year in jail and a fine or up to €45,000. The couple are also seeking an injunction in the civil court in Paris to ensure that no more pictures are published in print or online.
Such are the penalties for breaching privacy in France that editors and their publishers cynically factor in the fines when considering if they should run sensationalist content. That said, with the rise of the web and the fact that one of these titles has a social media editor that hypes up the content on Twitter and other social networks that civil action could be taken in UK courts, where damages could be more substantial.
Reputation today is a cross-jurisdictional issue. The 21st Century Reputation Consultant doesn’t just have to have understand the workings of the world wide web. They also have to have an understanding as well as a lawyer alongside them that can build a case in the various legal jurisdictions that stories today reach.
While statements have been made by the publishers that there was nothing wrong with the publishing of the images, that is incorrect. In France alone doing so is a criminal offence.
While there are individuals, celebrities that make a living from the gossip magazines, the signal has been sent that the Prince and Princess are not celebrities. It is a brave move, but one that in my opinion needs to be taken.
Certainly editors should have considered the past surrounding the late Princess Diana when making a risk assessment of whether they should publish said picture package. Common sense would have dictated that given the history the response by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is certainly not, as Closer Editor Laurence Pieau said, “disproportionate.”