The Duchess in Kuala Lampur earlier Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (Justine Guyton/AP)

A French magazine’s publication of topless photos of Kate Middleton — pictures taken with a long lens, while she was sunbathing with husband Prince William on the terrace of a private home in Provence — has prompted the royal couple to file a lawsuit and sparked a debate over what constitutes a violation of celebrity privacy at a time when full exposure seems almost unavoidable.

Since the hubbub began early Friday, Laurence Pieau, editor of Closer, a French magazine that most Americans had probably never heard of until it opted to run the revealing shots, has defended the publication of the images.

“One shouldn’t dramatize these pictures,” Pieau said in an interview with ITN. “The reactions were a little disproportionate.” She also called the photographs “full of joy” and added that the tabloid has additional, “more intimate” ones that they chose not to publish.

Whether the reaction has been disproportionate or not, the response to this story, particularly in the comments section on a widely read AP article published on this Web site, indicates that not everyone sees this situation as a one-sided violation of privacy.

“Any woman, let alone one who has acquired some celebrity, who bares her bosom where she’s visible to a long lens is a fool,” wrote Erasma2 in a Washington Post comment thread. “No use for the photographer or the magazine, but no sympathy for Kate either.”

“Kate topless even on private property should expect the photos to be splashed in the news,” added commenter Desertdiva. “There is NO expectation of privacy for anyone.”

“It appears the comments posted by males (for the most part) are all ‘rah, rah let’s look at breasts’ and ‘she took her top off, she deserves to have photos published,’” said portiaperu. “The women posting here are primarily concerned about privacy being respected in settings where one has the right to remove his or her clothing without concern about being photographed. A private home and it’s [sic] environs are not a public setting. Not too hard to understand.”

Clearly a very simple question — when is a person really in private? — is an extremely complicated one when it comes to the famous, or even the non-famous at this stage in the “I just tagged you in a Facebook photo without your knowledge” culture.

Another reason this story has struck a nerve is that it’s Kate Middleton, whose personal moment has inadvertently been put on display. Many, many people, especially women, have developed great respect for the Duchess for the way she has consistently carried herself with poise and class in a world that seems to be shedding the notion of propriety with every profane tweet and TMZ rumor that circulates.

We feel protective of her, in particular. We want to shield her from rubbish like this, so much that we just used a word like rubbish even though we never say the word rubbish, ever. It’s the Kate Middleton in us that makes us alter our vocabulary. That pearly smile, that chin held high, make us want to be proper and good, and knowing that she’s been splashed shirtless across the front of a magazine just makes us feel terrible and sad. It was almost poignant that as the Closer magazine story broke, photos of a respectfully shrouded Kate outside a mosque in Kuala Lumpur were simultaneously making their way around the Internet, a stark contrast to the tabloid images that would quickly dominate media attention.


But back to the privacy issue. As someone who chastised Prince Harry for baring his goodies during that strip billiards game in Las Vegas when anyone around him could (and did) take photos, I am sympathetic to the “don’t go outside undressed” argument. Purely for common sense reasons, the Duchess probably should not have done that.

But to me, there’s a difference between drunkenly taking off your clothes at a party with strangers and disrobing to sunbathe with your husband while someone is taking your picture without your knowledge. It’s putting yourself out there vs. having someone invade your space, uninvited, to take something that has not been even remotely offered.

Maybe the Duchess should not have removed her bikini top once she stepped onto that terrace. Fine. But, hypothetically, what if she had stayed just inside the house and done it in front of an open doorway? What if the photos had captured her just beyond a window that had accidentally been left unshuttered? Would she be less at fault, somehow, for not leaving the confines of a building?

The point is there has to be some sort of a line. As desertdiva said, there is “NO expectation of privacy anymore.” But by filing that lawsuit, William and Kate seem to be saying, hey. Wait a minute. Maybe there should be.