In the latest instalment of this lengthy litigation, a US photographer involved in passing the secret wedding snaps to Hello! tries to exit the proceedings.
Topic: Data protection
Who: Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and OK Magazine -v- Hello! Limited and Others including Philip Ramey
When: December 2002
Where: Chancery Division of the High Court, London
The breach of confidentiality and privacy litigation over wedding photographs of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones continues. The latest instalment involves American photographer Phil Ramey, who is not alleged to have actually taken the surreptitious snaps of the happy couple during the "private" wedding in the US, but was joined as a defendant because Douglas and Jones alleged he was to commissioned by Hello! to provide the photos and to have obtained the copyright.
Ramey applied to the Court to have the proceedings against him struck out. One of the celebrity couple's claims against the defendants was similar to the claim which was recently brought unsuccessfully by Naomi Campbell against the Mirror, namely a claim for damages arising out of an alleged breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.
Ramey did not necessarily deny that he was "processing" personal data by being involved in supplying the photos to Hello!'s publishers. He also accepted that if UK law applied to him, he would be a "data controller" and therefore unable to legally handle the relevant personal data (the wedding photographs) without revealing his intentions at or before the time of processing it, something which he clearly did not do. The fundamental problem with the claim against him, he said, was that UK law did not apply to any of his conduct as it occurred in the US. He also had no equipment or establishment in the UK. In response to the separate claim against him that he was a "co-conspirator", he said he had no intention to injure the couple and was simply involved on a commercial basis.
On the "conspiracy" claim, the Judge agreed with Ramey that this could not be pursued purely on the basis of Ramey being involved in Hello!'s arrangements in order to make money. There had to be evidence of a desire by Ramsey to do the claimants down. No evidence of this kind had been produced by the claimants and accordingly the claim against Ramey was struck out.
Why this matters:
The case underlines the fact that even if personal data relates to UK residents, if it is processed by US individuals or businesses in America the US processor cannot be in breach of UK data protection law. For example, if a US-based and operated website runs an on-line prize promotion, and invites participants from the UK who input their personal details on the site, the activities of the US website in this connection are not subject to UK data protection law.