New Year, new tort of misuse of private information

google-sign-9Vidal Hall and Ors v Google Inc [2014] EWHC 13 (QB) – read judgment

A group of UK Google users called ‘Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking’ have claimed that the tracking and collation of information about of their internet usage by Google amounts to misuse of personal information, and a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998The Judge confirmed that misuse of personal information was a distinct tort. He also held that the English courts had jurisdiction to try the claims. 

Mr Justice Tugendhat’s decision was on the basis that (1) there was a distinct tort of the misuse of private information (2) there was a serious issue to be tried on the merits in respect of the claims for misuse and for breach of the DPA; (3) the claims were made in tort and damage had been sustained in the jurisdiction and (4) England was clearly therefore the most appropriate forum for the trial.

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UK may need law against secret filming and photography after European Court ruling – James Michael

A-photographer-with-a-cam-006Söderman v. Sweden – (application no. 5786/08) – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has decided that it is a violation of the right to privacy if a country does not have a law prohibiting surreptitious photography of people. The ruling has serious implications for paparazzi, and would have been useful to Princess Diana.  A ready-made bill exists in the form of a draft published by the Law Commission for England and Wales in 1981.

On 12 November the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Sweden’s lack of a legal ban on invading personal privacy by surreptitious photographs violated the right to privacy. The case involved a camera hidden in the bathroom by the stepfather of a fourteen-year old girl. (Söderman v. Sweden,application no. 5786/08).

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When is an advert “political” for the purposes of a ban under the Communications Act?

20090327_radio_microphone_18R (on the application of London Christian Radio Ltd & Christian Communications Partnerships) v Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (Respondent) & Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Interested Party) [2013] EWCA Civ 1495 – read judgment

The ban on Christian Radio’s proposed advert seeking data on the “marginalisation of Christians” in the workplace was lawful and did not constitute an interference with free speech, the Court of Appeal has ruled. When determining whether a radio or television advertisement was “political” fur the purposes of Section 321(2)(b) of the Communications Act 2003 the court should consider the text objectively; the motives of the advertiser were irrelevant.

This was an appeal against a ruling by Silber J ([2013] EWHC 1043 (Admin)) that a proposed radio advertisement was directed towards a political end, and therefore fell foul of the prohibition on political advertising which meant that it could not be given clearance for broadcast (see my previous post on this decision). Continue reading

Court of Appeal broadcasters must learn the Supreme Court lessons

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

TV cameras are recording Court of Appeal hearings from today. The BBC, ITN, Sky News and the Press Association are cooperating on the project, and have hired an in-court video-journalist who will recommend the most interesting cases.

This is great news. Let in the light. The more that the public can see what is going on in their courts, the better. The courts are a bewildering place for the uninitiated and especially for those who cannot afford to pay someone to explain what is going on. This is still a relatively small advance – only appeals will be broadcast, not trials, so the public is unlikely to see any cross examination of witnesses. But hopefully it will be enough to increase public understanding of and interest in the courts.

But a word of warning. This initiative will only succeed if it is implemented in the right way. And, there are important lessons here from the Supreme Court’s ongoing broadcasting experiment.

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Rihanna wins against Topshop but does she have a right to her image? – Emily Goodhand

Rihanna--010Fenty & Ors v Arcadia Group Brands Ltd (t/a Topshop) & Anor [2013] EWHC 2310 (Ch) – Read judgment

The ruling in the Rihanna/Topshop case marks a significant trend, both in case law and society, towards equating image with commodity. Increasingly, celebrities and sports personalities earn large sums of money from sponsorship and advertising deals because companies recognise that their image sells products. So how can so-called image rights be protected?

The legal regime around image rights has arisen out of common law concepts of property, trespass and tort (civil wrong). The common law system means that precedents for the protection of an individual’s likeness have arisen from judges’ decisions in cases involving unauthorised exploitation of a likeness where an individual has suffered damage as a result. Some US states have enacted specific legislation equating celebrities’ personality rights with property rights, where expiration of the rights occurs 70 years following the death of the celebrity.

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Can Google be sued for the content of blogs on its platform?

google-sign-9Tamiz v Google Inc [2013] EWCA Civ 68 - read judgment

The Court of Appeal has ruled that in principle, an internet service provider that allowed defamatory material to remain on a blog hosted on its platform after it had been notified of a complaint might be a “publisher” of this material, although in this case the probable damage to the complainant’s reputation over a short period was so trivial that libel proceedings could not be justified.

This interesting case suggests there may be an opening for liability of Google  for defamation, if certain steps have been taken to fix them with knowledge of the offending statement. Mr Tamiz, who claimed to have been defamed by comments posted on the “London Muslim Blog” between 28 and 30 April 2011, appealed a decision in the court below to decline jurisdiction in his claim against the respondent corporation and to set aside an order for service of proceedings on Google out of the jurisdiction. Continue reading

Who owns the copyright on barristers’ advocacy? – Emily Goodhand

Supreme Court Live in action

Supreme Court Live in action

Following yesterday’s welcome announcement that the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) is uploading judgment summaries to YouTube (see Adam’s post), there has been some speculation as to whether the UKSC will take the next step in its embrace of digital technology and upload full hearings of trials. But could taking this step result in falling foul of the UK’s copyright law?

There are several issues to consider here. Firstly: who owns the recording? Secondly: what rights do the individuals involved in the recording have? And finally: what defences (if any) apply?

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Semi-naked RocknRoll pics can’t be published in Sun, rules High Court

Kate Winslet and Ned RocknrollRocknroll v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2013] EWHC 24 (Ch) – Read judgment

Earlier this month, Rocknroll came to the Chancery Division.  Mr Justice Briggs set out his reasons yesterday for granting Kate Winslet’s new husband an interim injunction prohibiting a national newspaper from printing semi-naked photographs of him taken at a party in July 2010 and later posted on Facebook.

In Edward Rocknroll v. News Group Newspapers Ltdthe Judge decided that the Claimant was likely to succeed at a full trial in establishing that his right to respect for his family life (protected by article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and his copyright over the photographs should prevail over The Sun’s right to freedom of expression (protected by article 10 ECHR).  As such, the photographs cannot be published nor their contents described pending a full trial.

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Turkish block on Google site breached Article 10 rights, rules Strasbourg

google-sign-9YILDIRIM v. TURKEY – 3111/10 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 2074 – Read judgment

In the case of Yildrim v Turkey the European Court of Human Rights decided that a Court order blocking access to “Google Sites” in Turkey was a violation of Article 10.  The measure was not “prescribed by law” because it was not reasonably foreseeable or in accordance with the rule of law.  The judgment is available only in French.

He owned and ran a website hosted by the Google Sites service, on which he published his academic work and his opinions on various matters.  On 23 June 2009 the Denizli Criminal Court of First Instance ordered the blocking of an Internet site whose owner had been accused of insulting the memory of Atatürk. The order was issued as a preventive measure in the context of criminal proceedings against the site’s owner.

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Public insults to be legalised but grossly offensive messages still criminal

Twitter-Logo UK human rights blogSection 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which outlaws the use of “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviourwill be amended to remove the word ‘insulting’. The amendment is the result of a successful, high-profile campaign which asked “Do we really need the police and the courts to deal with insults?

That campaign, supported by major organisations and many MPs, prompted a successful House of Lords vote to amend the wording in December. That vote was supported by the Crown Prosecution Service, with Director Keir Starmer writing that his organisation was “unable to identify a case in which the alleged behaviour leading to conviction could not properly be characterised as ‘abusive’ as well as ‘insulting“. The Home Secretary has now, rather grudgingly, said she will not oppose amendment.

So, we will be able to insult in public. But thanks to section 127 the Communications Act 2003, it is still up to the police and the courts to decide whether we have sent grossly offensive messages on Facebook, Twitter and in practically any other communications medium. Continue reading

Identity of social workers may be published following fostering bungle

question-mark-face Bristol City Council v C and others [2012] EWHC 3748 (Fam) – read judgment

This was an application for a reporting restriction order arising out of care proceedings conducted before the Bristol Family Proceedings Court. The proceedings themselves were relatively straightforward but, in the course of the hearing, information came to light which gave rise to concerns of an “unusual nature”, which alerted the interest of the press.

Background

After family court proceedings decided that child A was at risk of violence from her father, an interim care order was implemented and A was moved to foster carers. However some time afterwards the local authority received information from the police suggesting that someone living at the address of A’s foster carers had had access to child pornography. A also told social workers that another member of the foster household (also respondent to this action) had grabbed her around the throat. As a consequence police and social services visited the foster carers, informed them of the concerns about pornography, removed all computers from the house and moved A to another foster home. On the following day the male foster carer was found dead, having apparently committed suicide. Continue reading

Mail finds new love for Human Rights Act

Just fancy that!You know those films where a couple spend the first two acts hating each other until, possibly at night when it is raining, they realise they have been in love all along? It seems that following the Leveson Inquiry report, a winter romance is developing between the Mail on Sunday and the Human Rights Act.

In Bombshell by Leveson’s own adviser: His law to gag press is illegal as it breaches Human Rights Act, the Mail reveals an interview with Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights advocacy organisation Liberty and also advisor to the Leveson Inquiry, in which she argues that any new law that made the government quango Ofcom the ‘backstop regulator’ with sweeping powers to punish newspapers would violate Article 10 of the European Convention On Human Right, which protects free speech (Update: for more, see this post by Hugh Tomlinson QC – he disagrees with Chakrabarti, although also points out she has been misrepresented).

It only seems like a few months ago (actually, it was only a few months ago) that a Mail editorial thundered: Human rights is a charter for criminals and parasites our anger is no longer enough. As Private Eye might say… just fancy that!

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The Leveson Report is here!

The Leveson Report into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press has been published. The full report (in four parts) is here. The Executive Summary is here. Thankfully, unlike the artist’s impression which accompanies this post, it is not written in early Hebrew script [Update - this post originally, wrongly, identified the text as Greek. That will teach me for trying to be clever...].

My statement to the Inquiry is here. 1 Crown Office Row barristers represented the Metropolitan Police (Neil Garnham QC and Alasdair Henderson) and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC) (Peter Skelton).

Free speech and prosecution in the age of Twitter

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided not to charge Daniel Thomas for posting a homophobic message on Twitter, the social networking site, about the swimmer Tom Daley. The press release, which takes the form of an extended quote from the Director of Public Prosecutions, is fascinating. I have reproduced it in full below.

In short, the CPS has decided not to charge Thomas as he “intended the message to be humorous”, removed it quickly,  didn’t intend it to go beyond his followers (“however naive” that was), has expressed remorse and Daley did not find out about the message until after it had been reported in the media.

The DPP has also used the opportunity to announce that he is drafting new guidance for social media prosecutions and also to say that whilst “serious wrongdoing” could be the subject of prosecutions,

The fact that offensive remarks may not warrant a full criminal prosecution does not necessarily mean that no action should be taken. In my view, the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media.

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Is compulsory regulation of the print media compatible with Article 10 ECHR? – Hugh Tomlinson QC

One of the possibilities being considered by Lord Justice Leveson as he writes the Report for Part 1 of his Inquiry is whether there should be compulsory regulation of the print media.   One, widely discussed possibility is a statutory framework which would require any publisher with turnover or readership above a set threshold to join a “regulatory body”: compulsory regulation for large publishers. 

The purpose of such a provision would be to  deal with the so-called “Desmond problem” – the anomaly of a system of regulation which does not cover all the large newspaper publishers. But an important freedom of expression question arises: is the compulsory regulation of the print media compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights?  This is not a question which has ever been considered by the Court of Human Rights and the answer may not be an entirely straightforward.

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