The appellants in this case was Douglas.
The respondents in this case was Hello! Ltd.
The barristers who represented the appellants were Richard Millet QC, Richard Slowe and Paul Stanley. These three were instructed by SJ Berwin LLP.
The citation for this case is (2007) UKHL 21
There were 5 judges that heard the appeal. Their names were Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Hoffmann , Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe , Baroness Hale of Richmond and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood.
Approved – To agree to or accept something as satisfactory.
Affirmed – Accept or confirm the validity of a judgement or agreement.
Distinguished – A court decides that the facts of a case are materially different so that the precedent set does not have to be followed. The facts are not sufficiently similar.
Reversed – A court higher in the hierarchy overturns the decision of a lower court in the same case.
Overruled – Occurs when a court higher in the hierarchy overturns the decision of a lower court in a different case.
Essential Facts of the Douglas v Hello! Case:
A couple called Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta- Jones entered into an agreement with an English magazine called OK!, which gained the magazine company rights for nine months to publish photographs of their wedding. No third-party media was allowed access to these photographs. At the wedding and reception it was announced that taking any photos was not allowed and strictly prohibited. The staff signed agreements not to take photos and guests were searched for cameras. Despite this, a photographer who was pretending to be part of the staff and wasn’t part of the agreement sneakily managed to take photos. He sold the exclusive right to publish the unauthorised photographers to Hello! who were a celebrity magazine as well as competitors of OK!. Hello! planned to publish the photographs. OK! wanted an interlocutory injunction that would stop Hello! from publishing the picture. This was granted until the 23rd November when the Court of Appeal overturned the decision. Hello! prepared to sell the unauthorised photographs to the public on 24th November. OK! Brought claims against Hello! for breach of confidence and causing loss by unlawful means. Lindsay J held Hello! liable for breach of confidence. The Court of Appeal reversed the judge’s decision on the ground that the obligation of confidence for the benefit of OK! attached only to the photographs which the Douglases authorised them to publish and not to any others. The case was then referred to the House of Lords.
The Legal Issues and the significance of them:
One of the legal issues in this case is about breach of confidence. There are three requirements in order for someone to be sued for this. First, there must be necessary quality of confidence about it. Secondly, the information has to have been imparted in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence. Thirdly, there must be an unauthorised use of that information to the detriment of the party communicating it. In this case previously it was determined that the three requirements had been breached by Hello!. The first requirement applied as they were photos that were not available for public viewing. For the second, it was made clear that anyone attending the wedding were not to be able to take photos. Finally, Lindsay J deemed Hello to satisfy the third criteria as they knew OK! had paid a large fee for the rights and turned a blind eye when the photos were sent to them. The Court of Appeal (2006) QB 125 reversed this decision as they deemed there was an obligation of confidence for only the photographs that the couple had allowed them to publish. The other issue in this case is whether or not Hello are liable for acting by unlawful means. The company must have had intention. In this case ‘unlawful means’ is all acts the defendant is not supposed to do. This offence seeks to provide a remedy for all damage caused by unacceptable means.
What was the decision reached by the court and why?
Before this, it was determined in the Court of Appeal that the unauthorised photographs contained nothing that wasn’t in the authorised photos, meaning that once the magazine had been published containing the unauthorised pictures then a breach of confidence could not occur. It was felt that information in the photographs weren’t intended to be a secret but to be released to the public at the same time as the unauthorised pictures in Hello!. The decision that was reached by the court came out as a 3-2 majority which overturned the decision that was made by the Court of Appeal. This was because OK! had paid a large fee (£1,000,000) for the benefit of the obligation of confidence imposed upon everyone who attended the wedding in respect of any photography that occurred during the wedding and were therefore entitled to enforce that obligation. The House of Lords saw an obligation of confidence for the purpose of OK! making themselves the only publication by paying a lot of money for this. It was deemed that Ok! should be able to impose confidentiality on their business. In terms of the unlawful means, it was held that Hello! had the necessary intention to cause loss but had not done this unlawfully with the actions of the Douglases. It was said there was no intent to injure by unlawful means because there was no intent to injure at all.