True Life: Kate Middleton Forgot her Bathing Suit Top - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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True Life: Kate Middleton Forgot her Bathing Suit Top

True Life: Kate Middleton Forgot her Bathing Suit Top

A day in the life of Kate Middleton: enjoying royal teatime, lavish vacationing, watching a polo match, going topless. Oh, and getting caught.  On Friday, September 14, 2012, a French gossip magazine disrupted Ms. Middleton’s royal affairs with the publication of topless photographs taken by paparazzi.

Shortly after (within hours) the princess’s physique went viral, she and husband Prince William began an aggressive legal crusade to protect their privacy and halt the publication of the photographs. Their ultimate goal? To persuade French prosecutors to commence a criminal suit against the photographer, in an effort to demonstrate their royal power and to show the world they are not messing around. This is a warning to future photographers to let Ms. Middleton sunbathe topless in peace.  The unauthorized photographs were already widely published in France, Italy, and Ireland, and were easily discoverable to the rest of the world via Google.

In court, the couple gained a small victory, but it seems unlikely to hold much weight.   A French court ruled in their favor, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to control the circulation through legal means post-publishing. The court-imposed fine was $2,500, and the magazine was ordered to turn over the photos, both hard and digital copies. However, it is believed that not the magazine, but the unknown photographer owns the copyright to the controversial images.

According to a British source, “Police yesterday raided the offices of French magazine Closer in the hunt for the photographer who took topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge.” Simultaneously, a Swedish magazine was publishing the photographs.  In fact, many involved in media and entertainment don’t share any sympathy for Ms. Middleton.

The editor of  Chi, an Italian magazine that has previously posted controversial pictures of the royal family, opined regarding the pictures, “I don’t see anything morbid or damaging in them.  Chi pays attention to respecting people’s dignity. I don’t think they hurt Kate’s image.”

While it’s questionable at best that these pictures have negatively brought attention to the Duchess of Cambridge and her image, this scenario nonetheless raises the question—What is a member of the royal family doing topless outside? Is it really an invasion of privacy when someone is absorbing Vitamin D and decides to be partially naked while doing it?  Kate Middleton’s wedding was one of the most highly publicized events in British history.  There is even an official website for it.  As someone so high profile, wouldn’t she think twice before untying her halter-top?  On one level, it’s fair to say that everyone is entitled to sunbathe topless, famous or not. But on a practical level, it perhaps shouldn’t be so surprising when the photographs end up published everywhere.

Ultimately, it will be very interesting to see how intellectual property rights clashing with privacy rights pans out across the pond.  Once the identity of the photographer is discovered, he will be faced with a choice; he can either sell the rights to the royal family, thus receiving a large payout, or he can continue to sell the images to various magazines and forums, fueling further litigation.  Either way, the world will be watching with anticipation.

Elizabeth Boggia