Pictures of Ned RocknRoll taken at a private party were on Facebook for two and half years for all the world – and particularly James Pope’s 1,500 Facebook “friends” – to see. I understand that The Sun found them on a trawl of publicly-viewable Facebook pages. So how can they possibly now be considered private?
To find out we must await publication of Mr Justice Briggs’ reasoning, expected in nine days’ time, for his decision yesterday to uphold an interim privacy injunction first granted last week.
The Sun has paid the price for going to RocknRoll in advance of publication for a comment on 2 January.
The result was for Pope to take the photos down and for RocknRoll, after previously apparently voicing no objection to them being visible to anyone with a computer and the inclination to search for them, has deemed them to be private.
The Sun argued that they were in the public interest because RocknRoll was a public figure after marrying the actress Kate Winslet and because he had sold photographs of a previous wedding to Hello! Magazine.
To take a proper view on whether publication is in the public interest one would need to know exactly what it was RocknRoll was doing that he is now so keen to hide.
But it seems to me that in this case the public interest argument is probably a bit thin and in any case irrelevent.
Newspapers and broadcasters regularly publish all manner of material which cannot remotely be said to fulfil any legal definition of the ‘public interest’. They would be very dry publications and news programmes if they purely confined themselves to material which was deemed to serve some public good.
So the question with Ned RocknRoll isn’t whether publication was in the public interest, but whether the pics constituted a breach of his privacy.
After being viewed by up to 1,500 Facebook “friends”, and many more people on the wider internet besides, I would argue that the cat was out of the bag on that one and privacy doesn’t come into it.
Copyright is another question, not the subject of last week’s injunction.
But it is worth noting that when you publish a photograph on a publicly-viewable Facebook page – Facebook’s own terms and conditions are very clear in warning that you are making it public property.
They state: “When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).”
This case isn’t going to become a touchstone for press freedom. As far as I’m concerned RocknRoll could have daubed himself in pigs’ blood and proclaimed his eternal loyalty to Satan at that fancy dress party two years ago and it would be his own affair and nothing to do with me (he didn’t, I’m just making a point).
But once pictures have been viewed more than a thousand times online without complaint, can they really still be considered “private”?
This blog first appeared on Press Gazette