Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Weller hails privacy damages ruling

Paul Weller was unhappy at pictures being taken of his children

Paul Weller has spoken of his absolute delight at winning £10,000 privacy damages for three of his children whose faces were "plastered" over a newspaper website.

The singer, 55, sued Associated Newspapers for misuse of private information on behalf of daughter Dylan, who was 16 when the seven unpixellated pictures appeared on MailOnline in October 2012, and twin sons John Paul and Bowie, who were 10 months old.

The pictures were published after a paparazzo followed Weller and the children on a shopping trip through the streets of Santa Monica, California, taking photos without their consent despite being asked to stop.

Associated Newspapers argued that they were entirely innocuous and inoffensive images taken in public places and that the Wellers had previously chosen to open up their private family life to public gaze to a significant degree.

The former frontman of The Jam and The Style Council and his 27-year-old wife Hannah were reacting to a ruling by Mr Justice Dingemans at London's High Court that there was a misuse of private information and a breach of the Data Protection Act which merited an award of £5,000 to Dylan and £2,500 each to the boys.

The judge said that the photographs were published in circumstances where Dylan, Bowie and John Paul had a reasonable expectation of privacy - and the balance came down in favour of finding that the right to respect for private and family life overrode the right to freedom of expression.

A spokesman for MailOnline said that it was deeply disappointed by the judgment and intended to appeal.

"At the outset, when concerns were first raised, we made it clear to Mr and Mrs Weller that MailOnline would not re-publish these photos. We offered to discuss how we could further reassure them to avoid litigation but their response was to issue proceedings against us on a no-win no-fee.

"The photographs showed nothing more than Paul Weller and three of his children out and about in public places. There was no claim and no finding that we had followed, harassed or targeted Mr Weller or his children and no request had ever been made to pixellate the children's faces.

"Our publication of the images was entirely in line with the law in California where they were taken by a freelance photographer.

"The suggestion that children have an expectation of privacy in relation to publication by the media of images of their faces when one child (now nearly 18) has modelled for Teen Vogue, images of the babies' naked bottoms have been tweeted by their mother, and their father has discussed the children in promotional interviews is a worrying development in our law, as it has conferred unfettered image rights on all the children.

"MailOnline is now a global business competing with other US-based websites who operate under the freedom of the First Amendment.

"Two-thirds of MailOnline's audience are now resident outside of the UK where readers will be baffled if they are denied material freely available on dozens of other sites around the world.

"This judgment has wide-ranging and serious consequences not only for local, national and international digital journalism but for anyone posting pictures of children on social networks. We intend to appeal."

But, the Wellers said the case had been an "important step" in protecting the rights of children.

"We are absolutely delighted with the positive outcome of our privacy case against ANL, as we are with the fact that in a detailed and very carefully reasoned judgment, the court has upheld our complaint that unpixellated photographs taken of our children whilst out enjoying some quality time with their family should not be published without consent. That is why we brought this action on their behalf.

"The only reason for publishing the photographs was because they are the children of someone well-known. That is no proper justification at all, whether they were taken in England or in California, nor is the newspaper's argument that their commercial business model would somehow be affected if they were not allowed to do so.

"This is an important step in the protection of children's rights, and this decision should be welcomed by those who value them, regardless of whether they are, so-called, 'famous' or not.

"Unfortunately, the Mail Online's press release demonstrates that they are no more a respecter of such rights (or the people who pursue them) than they are of the court's judgment."

The couple went on: "It is our opinion that this protection should be automatically offered by law and should not have to be sought by families in a similar predicament. This was a distressing situation for our family and we are happy that this case has concluded and that justice has been done."

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