Harry Styles secures court order to protect him and his hair from being pursued by paparazzi - what gives for privacy law?
To many observers this may seem like another in the long line of 'celebrities' and others who are seeking to put a stop to being randomly pictured in the press and who are, in that regard, seeking to protect their privacy.
Yet, appearing in the High Court this week, Styles' lawyer, David Sherborne, stated that the injunction being sought was "not a privacy injunction". So here we have an application for an injunction aimed at preventing the taking and publication of photographs of Styles and this is not meant to be a privacy injunction? So what is it? Much as this fits in with and sits firmly among the raft of similarly framed injunctions that have all been founded upon a desire to protect the photographing of an individual and subsequent use of such photographs under the umbrella of a seemingly developing 'privacy law' (which while hotly debated for over a decade has not found enough support or consensus to find its way onto the statute book), this injunction is, according to Sherborne, different.
Well perhaps it is. The injunction itself focuses not on the photographs and intrusive effect but on the means by which such photographs are obtained. It has been applied for an granted on the basis of loitering outside Styles' home (a place where one would have a reasonable expectation of privacy) or pursuing (aka harassing) him in the street. In other words any form of unwarranted or unsolicited or indeed unwelcome attention.
So it is an anti harassment order. Or is it? It has seemingly been granted against 'a group of photographers' in relation to which four of whom were in the process of being identified. So what Styles has secured here is notable and does impact on privacy law in that a court has been willing to grant an order preventing certain un-named but 'hoping to be identified' photographers who may or may not have been stalking Styles from hanging out near his home or pursuing him in the street. So the injunction applies to a potentially ascertainable class of persons but not to any named individual. This has to be the sort of broad injunction any 'celebrity' could wish for - a 'don't come near me or invade my space unless invited' order. But here the integrity behind it falls down in that, by Styles' lawyer's own admission, the order is not to prevent fans from mobbing and sobbing over him in the street but is to prevent the 'tactics' that have been used by 'a certain type of photographer'. In this regard it is a selective injunction - it's a I should choose how and when I am photographed and engage with others type of engagement.
Well to the defence of paparazzi who will no doubt be up in arms and claim fair game on the likes of Styles, you can't play it both ways and herein lies the tension there is with celebrities and these nasty, hounding, paparazzi types - you need them, welcome them and put up with them when you are 'on the up' or need to place or present a good story but loathe and complain about them when they are not doing your bidding but either helping fuel someone else's story or gratuitously filling a front page.
So this neatly brings the argument back to one of Mediabeak's original and recurring themes (which was explored as far back as the Douglas v Hello case) namely, what the likes of Styles (understandably I would suggest) are looking for is a control over when they switch on and off public engagement and images of them in public - what they are really after is a distinction between an image and persona right they can exercise control over as against a reportage opportunity and papped shots of their personal sphere over which they have limited control (other than through they type of legal action we are discussing here).
Despite an impressive line up of cases and raft of complaints in relation to privacy, the law still relies on the various associated laws (confidentiality, harassment, misuse of information) to patchwork together privacy protection. Yet the law and the courts seem willing to do so - as evidenced by this injunction which is, we are told, not a privacy injunction. Next to the obviously celebrity cases about unwanted photographs etc we have the far more worrying end of privacy, namely state interference (as seen in the ongoing NSA files debate). So privacy law from the likes of Styles seeking to control how his hairstyle is viewed through to serious issues of identity and data privacy remains in an unsatisfactory state. In this regard what might seem to be a bit of a fatuous and random injunction actually unpacks wider points.
The ultimate question is how is the law going to tackle and legislate for the competing rights and requirements to control, separate and regulate individual human rights related privacy (as per Art. 8 ECHR), the use of and control over image rights (as commercial commodity / IP right) and the public interest / news / freedom of information rights. Answers on an email please!