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Woman loses Bebo privacy case against lad mag

'Questionable tastefulness'

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A magazine did not intrude into a young woman's privacy when it published photos that she had uploaded to social networking site Bebo when she was 15 because the images had already been widely circulated online.

The woman complained to press self-regulatory body the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). She said that an article and photographs which focused on her body intruded on her privacy and were published without her permission.

The PCC said that Loaded magazine did not invade the woman's privacy because although the original source of the pictures was her social networking profile, they had appeared widely on the internet outside of that context and the magazine had not taken them directly from the Bebo page.

"The magazine had not taken the material from the complainant's Bebo site; rather it had published a piece commenting on something that had widespread circulation online (having been taken from the Bebo page sometime ago by others) and was easily accessed by Google searches," said the PCC's ruling.

"It was not a matter of dispute that images of the complainant had been freely available for some time (having been originally posted in 2006) or that she had been identified online as the person in the pictures," it said.

"The Commission could quite understand that the complainant objected strongly to the context in which they appeared online: what were images of her and her friends in a social context had become proclaimed as 'pin-up' material, the subject of innuendo and bawdy jokes," said the ruling. "The magazine had not accessed material from a personal site and then been responsible for an especially salacious means of presenting it; instead it had published a piece discussing the fact that this material was already being widely used in this way by others."

The PCC said that it felt it could not order the magazine not to use material that had been so widely circulated.

"Although the Code imposes higher standards on the press than exist for material on unregulated sites, the Commission felt that the images were so widely established for it to be untenable for the Commission to rule that it was wrong for the magazine to use them," it said.

The magazine piece had offered a £500 reward to anyone who could persuade the woman to appear in one of its photo shoots. The PCC said that the article and the fact that she had been 15 years old when the photos were taken meant that it was in poor taste, but that that was not in breach of its Code.

"The Commission wished to make clear that it had some sympathy with the complainant. The fact that she was fifteen years old when the images were originally taken — although she is an adult now — only added to the questionable tastefulness of the article," it said. "However, issues of taste and offence — and any question of the legality of the material — could not be ruled upon by the Commission, which was compelled to consider only the terms of the Editors' Code."

The PCC said that it could not rule against Loaded when it had reported on material that was already in the public domain and had been for some time.

"The test… was whether the publication intruded into the complainant's privacy, and the Code required the Commission to have regard to 'the extent to which material is already in the public domain'," said the ruling. "In the Commission's view, the information, in the same form as published in the magazine, was widely available to such an extent that its republication did not raise a breach of the Code. The complaint was not upheld on that basis."

See: The ruling

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

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

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