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Zeta-Jones wedding picture row returns to UK court

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) Two magazines resumed a legal battle over pictures from the 2000 wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a case that could clarify what control stars have over their image and privacy.

The case between the publisher of OK! magazine, which had an exclusive deal with the Hollywood couple to publish their wedding photographs, and Hello!, which printed unauthorised ''spoilers'', has ended up in England's highest court.

The House of Lords must decide whether celebrity magazines can sue if an exclusive deal is spoiled, and whether exclusivity extends beyond the publication of the pictures.

The ruling will shed further light on how privacy laws in England are changing following the introduction of human rights legislation six years ago.

''The contract threw a ring of confidentiality around the entire wedding that the Douglases themselves were not entitled to break,'' said Richard Millett, barrister for OK!'s publisher Northern&Shell Plc.

''Without it the value of the exclusivity for which they paid would have been seriously undermined or eliminated,'' he added in the vaulted, wood-panelled room in London's House of Lords.

Douglas and Zeta-Jones, who testified at the original trial in 2003, will not take part in the hearings.

OK! won the 2003 case and was awarded damages of one million pounds, the same amount the magazine had agreed to pay the couple for the rights to their wedding.

Hello! successfully appealed in 2005, setting up a final showdown before the law lords.

Legal experts said millions of pounds in fees, as well as legal precedent, were at stake when the judgment, expected to be delivered in writing next year, was handed down.

IMAGE RIGHTS? With celebrity magazines regularly bidding against each other for sole rights to images, they and the stars will be watching the lords' ruling closely.

Hello! is expected to argue in the coming days that exclusivity disappeared as soon as OK!'s images were published and in the public domain.

Were OK! to win the case, they will say, it would be tantamount to giving celebrities ''image rights'', allowing them to control what images of them are published, something not recognised in English law.

At the original trial in 2003, Zeta-Jones said she felt violated by the unauthorised pictures published in Hello!, calling them ''sleazy'' and ''unflattering''.

Two cases in 2004 favoured celebrities over the media.

In 2004, the law lords decided supermodel Naomi Campbell's rights were breached when a newspaper ran a story saying, correctly, that Campbell had visited Narcotics Anonymous.

In the same year, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Germany for failing to stop press photos of Princess Caroline of Monaco which it said violated her right to respect for private life.


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