The British royal family commenced an extraordinary legal offensive Monday, arguing that topless photos of Kate Middleton were taken illegally and that further publication of the pictures is an invasion of privacy that should be stopped by a court.
The court, in this case, is located in France, and French law appears to favor the royals’ case against the owners of Closer, the French magazine that first published the Middleton photos last week.
On Monday, the Italian magazine Chi added to the palace’s heartburn by publishing a 26-page spread of grainy, telephoto-lens images of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless in France. It thus became the third European publication to print a portion of the series, which is said to number some 200 snaps.
At the same time, attorneys for Middleton and her husband, Prince William, filed a criminal complaint and a civil action against Closer and the still-unidentified photographer who took the pictures. The royals are seeking to stop publication of more photos by the French magazine, which is owned by a company controlled by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The same company owns Chi, which published its spread with the headline “The Queen is Nude.”
The royals contend that the photos of Middleton — apparently taken by a single paparazzo — violate her privacy and that the photographer trespassed on the private French estate where she and Prince William were vacationing. The editor of the Italian magazine disputes the trespassing allegation, saying the photos were shot from a public road.
American civil law is fairly clear on this sort of thing: You can be held liable for photographing someone in a private setting without his or her knowledge or consent. The American Law Institute, in summarizing court decisions, says the photographer’s actions could amount to an “intrusion upon seclusion,” a civil offense.
But publishing such photos may be another matter, says Eric Easton, a law professor at the University of Baltimore’s School of Law. “Courts are very reluctant to silence newsworthy speech, even if [the speech] has the effect of disturbing someone,” he said.
Although the Middleton photos are easily available around the world to anyone with an Internet connection, no British media have been willing to defy the royal family and publish them.
Only one British paper, the popular tabloid the Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International, published photos of Prince Harry naked in his Las Vegas hotel room during a strip billiard party last month. But the Sun has ruled out reprinting the Middleton photos.
The photos of Harry probably don’t raise the same privacy and public-relations concerns in Britain as those involving Middleton, British media sources suggested Monday.