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British newspaper websites liable in France for privacy invasion

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Two British newspaper publishers have been fined in French courts because they violated French privacy laws. The publishers were liable because the articles were viewed in France on the internet.

Olivier Martinez, famous in the UK as an ex-boyfriend of Kylie Minogue, sued Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) and Associated Newspapers for breach of France's strict privacy laws after the newspapers published stories suggesting Martinez and Minogue had recommenced their relationship, which had ended a year previously. The stories also detailed their movements together in Paris earlier this year.

MGN was sued because of an article at sundaymirror.co.uk, while Associated was sued over articles at dailymail.co.uk and thisislondon.co.uk. For each title the publishers were ordered to pay €4,500.

The Tribunal De Grande Instance De Paris rejected claims that it did not have the right to hear the case. It had jurisdiction because the online versions of the articles were viewable in France, it found.

Though he was only awarded €4,500 per publication, Martinez had claimed €30,000 in total in a series of privacy cases about articles making the same allegations.

His lawyer, Emmanuel Asmar, told OUT-LAW.COM that French courts usually ordered small payouts. The significance of the case was not financial, he said, but in the setting of a precedent that UK publications could be liable under French privacy legislation.

"The big thing is that for the first time the [court] considered that UK publishers are liable for their contents in France since it is viewable here and the UK is a member of the EU," he said.

A related case from earlier this year was notable because it held one publisher responsible for material published on its site by another publisher via an RSS syndication feed.

That case was also taken by Asmar but on behalf of La Vie En Rose director Olivier Dahan. He successfully sued three websites for publishing stories about him and actress Sharon Stone via an RSS feed.

"[The RSS] link provides the link plus a short summary of some content," Asmar told OUT-LAW Radio last month. "We won the judgment. We won first on the original author of the information and secondly on the link. They were sentenced because they published the link."

Martinez also won in a case against three websites earlier this year when a court ruled that by publishing a link to offending material the blogs were liable for the privacy invasions of that material.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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