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Douglas wedding photo case ends, ruling seen 2007

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Nov 24 (Reuters) A lengthy legal battle over pictures from the wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones ended yesterday, and a 2007 ruling is expected to help define how far stars can control their image and privacy.

OK! magazine has taken its case to the House of Lords, England's highest court, in a bid to prove that rival celebrity glossy Hello!'s unauthorised ''spoiler'' photographs from the 2000 wedding were unlawful and damages should be paid.

OK! won the initial case and damages of one million pounds (1.9 million dollars) in 2003, but the ruling was overturned by the court of appeal in 2005. OK! had paid the couple one million pounds for exclusive rights to images from the marriage.

Douglas and Zeta-Jones were not a part of the latest case, which wound up with closing submissions before five law lords.

The lords are expected to hand down their judgment in February or March 2007, lawyers on both sides said.

They must decide whether celebrity magazines can sue if an exclusive deal is spoiled, and whether exclusivity extends beyond the time the approved photographs are published.

With stars regularly signing lucrative deals with publishers for exclusive access to a wedding or birth the decision will be closely watched by magazines, stars and media lawyers alike.

CANADIAN SINGER A second case in London this week in the appeal court may also shed light on how privacy laws in England are developing since the introduction of human rights legislation in 2000.

Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt is seeking to prevent details of her private life appearing in a book by former friend Niema Ash called ''Travels With Loreena McKennitt''.

McKennitt won a High Court ruling in London last year in which the judge prevented the disclosure of details including passages about personal relationships, emotional vulnerability and her feelings for her late fiance who drowned.

But Ash and the book's publishers, Purple Inc Press, are seeking to overturn the ruling, arguing that it struck a blow to freedom of expression.

David Price, lawyer for Ash and Purple, told the court that considerable uncertainty surrounded privacy laws in the country.

''There is a perception that the law relating to breach of confidence and misuse of private information is in a state of some uncertainty,'' he said. ''This uncertainty is undesirable. It has a chilling effect on freedom of expression.'' The McKennitt case also ended this week and judgment is awaited. Two cases in 2004 favoured celebrities over the media.

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

And 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.

Reuters SBA VP0500

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