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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 19:38 GMT 20:38 UK
Could Hello! win be an own goal?
Torin Douglas
BBC Media Correspondent

The case of Catherine Zeta-Jones' wedding photos is a legal saga to rival that of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in Dickens' Bleak House - and it may not be over yet.

It's now more than four and a half years since the Welsh Hollywood star married Michael Douglas in a New York hotel in November 2000.

The couple went to great lengths to protect their images of the event.

Catherine Zeta-Jones with husband Michael Douglas
The appeal judge also threw out the couple's claim for more damages

The official photographs were sold exclusively to OK! for a million pounds. Paparazzi were barred and guests were forbidden from bringing in cameras.

But an unauthorised photographer managed to get in and sold a few fuzzy photos to Hello!, which published them to reduce the impact of Ok!'s exclusive - what is known in the trade as a 'spoiler'.

The couple said they were outraged and distraught and the legal action has been going on ever since.

To start with, they took out an injunction to stop Hello! printing the photos, but that was immediately overturned by the Appeal Court, which said they should seek damages instead.

They did so. And four years on, with four million pounds already swallowed up in legal costs, there's every chance the case will continue all the way to the House of Lords.

'Commercial confidence'

Two years ago, amid huge publicity, the case came to the High Court in London.

After a six-week hearing, including a day of media mayhem when the glamorous couple turned up to give evidence in person, Hello! was ordered to pay up.

OK! magazine's lawyers said the ruling would affect all publishers which bought exclusive rights

There was then another court hearing to determine how much.

In the end, Hello! had to pay the Douglases 14,500 for their distress and breach of confidence.

That was widely seen as a very small sum for such a high-profile couple, leading to newspaper headlines concluding that Zeta-Jones had "lost".

But Hello! also had to pay more than a 1 million to OK!, which claimed its sales had been badly damaged as a result of the spoiler.

Now three Appeal Court judges have overturned that decision, saying that while the Douglases were entitled to their damages, the protection of 'commercial confidence' did not extend to OK! magazine and it had no rights which it could enforce against Hello!

Catherine Zeta-Jones with husband Michael Douglas
The first ruling said the couple's rights of confidence were breached

OK! magazine's lawyers said the ruling would affect all publishers which bought exclusive rights, because they'd have no legal remedy against rivals which ran spoilers.

Media lawyer Mark Stephens says that could prove an 'own goal' for Hello!, which also relies heavily on exclusive deals with celebrities.

He says OK! is right in seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords, because the law needs to be clarified.

But the judges also produced an intriguing postscript which will give comfort to the Douglases, according to their lawyer Katherine Rimell.

In the closing paragraphs of their lengthy judgment they said the Douglases' original injunction against Hello! should never have been lifted.

Rimell says: "That would have meant that the photographs that we have been litigating about would never have been published".

That won't be lost on celebrity lawyers seeking to protect their clients' privacy.



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