Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Naked Royal Flush

The biggest story this week, if the British Press is to be believe, is that Italian and French gossip magazines are running naked pictures of Kate Middleton, who is apparently married to some dude with a famous mother. While I’m indifferent to celebrities/royalties, this does raise an interesting question. Should the press be allowed to print naked pictures of famous people?

For those who haven’t heard about this, what happened is that Ms. Middleton and her hubby went to some private estate in France for a little vacation. Then they got naked and got jiggy. This was caught on camera by a French photographer who was about 1,500 yards away with a high-powered lens. The photos were sold to a French magazine and an Italian magazine. Now the royal family has brought civil suit to stop the publication of these photos (that failed) and they’ve asked a French prosecutor to bring criminal charges against the photographer for trespass and invasion of privacy.

That’s the background. What interests me is the question of whether or not this should be legal? Should the press be allowed to publish naked pictures of famous people taken while the target believed they were in private?

My answer is no because it serves no public purpose in this instance.

The First Amendment, which obviously isn’t implicated overseas, was created for the purpose of making sure that the press would be able to keep the public informed of matters of public import without the government censoring what information it wanted the public to know. Key in that point is the issue of the public interest, and what we need to consider when examining freedom of speech/press issues is to weigh the public interest against the violation of privacy rights.

When you start to think this issue in those terms, it becomes pretty obvious that naked pictures taken of celebrities who believe they are in private when the photos are taken are not something where the public interest outweighs the loss of privacy rights. Indeed, there really isn’t even a public interest here. It’s not like they were doing anything illegal or hypocritical. This wasn’t a crime. There was no drug use or anything which would make you question their judgment. So what exactly is the public interest?

I could see a public interest if they had done this at a bar downtown, but then the public interest would be in knowing they had gotten naked in public. In other words, it’s not the naked part that’s the problem, it’s the doing it in public part that’s the problem. I could also perhaps see a public interest if they had foresworn sex or nudity or something, and they were using that to build an image or reputation. But that’s not the case. This was just another married couple having sex.

So I leave you with these questions. Should the press be allowed to publish these images? Should it be criminal to invade privacy in matters like this? And where would you draw the line?

70 comments:

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

It is more of a matter of taste. I don't think anything criminal should be done to the magazine. The best thing to do, is offer the magazine's chief rival an in depth interview and unprecedented access. Otherwise, just grin and bear it. No pun intended.

Tennessee Jed said...

I have no easy answer. The notion of serving the public interest makes sense, but still requires someone to determine what is in the public interest. I guess one could make the argument that since SCOTUS once ruled that one rationale for one of their decisions was an invented right to privacy, it would rule accordingly. Another way around it would be a return to the "stay off my lawn thinking". Celebrities should be able to hire a security force to maim scumbag picture takers who trespass. What happens when the technology becomes available to use sensors to create CGI of the royal couple doing it in their own home?

Anthony said...

Andrew said:

So what exactly is the public interest?
---------

The public interest is that she is an easy on the eyes celebrity (remember the Simpsons joke about the guy who threw away the nude pictures of Whoopi Goldberg because no one would buy them?).

*Shrugs* If they were photos taken by a hidden camera if she was in the shower or something, I'd feel bad for her, but for practical if not legal purposes, outdoors is public. To take that argument further, changing in your own home with the window open is a bad idea. Good fences make for good neighbors.

That being said while I think the celeb in question is an idiot, I'm fine with the legal prosecution of those who violate privacy, but once photos are out there, they are going to stay out there, no matter what a court says.

Joel Farnham said...

Amdrew,

Also, where do you stop? In this instance, the couple could easily look out and notice that it was public. It isn't the same thing, where they were behind a tall fence and had a reasonable chance of privacy.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, There are privacy right here though. The press shouldn't just be allowed to take pictures of anyone at any time and use them however they want. People do have rights, even celebrities. And when those people are in private, those rights are particularly strong.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's another issue to consider. A couple decades ago, these photos couldn't have been taken. What kind of photos will they be able to take twenty years from now? Think about drones for example, flying overhead and peering down onto private property, or even satellites. Think about these "naked" scanners at airports.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, That's true that once the photos are out there, they will be available to everyone -- especially with the internet being what it is.

And I agree that getting naked outside is simply a bad idea.

But I still don't see a genuine public interest.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I'm not sure that's correct in this case. The photos I've seen look like they were on a huge private estate off in the mountains somewhere in France. I get the feeling most people would have thought they were alone as well. What they didn't realize was that the photographer had a high powered lens and just the right spot to see the house.

In terms of where you draw the line, that's the real question.

tryanmax said...

Should it be criminal to invade privacy in matters like this? The answer is unabashedly, "Yes." The equipment required to take a photograph at 1500 yards is nothing short of a telescope. No reasonable expectation of privacy should be required to account for such things. And if the photographer in question were not a "journalist" and his subjects not famous, he would be regarded as exactly what he is, a Peeping Tom. (I disagree that outdoors automatically means public.) And those other "journalists" trafficking in the images taken should probably be considered accessories of some sort.

Should the press be allowed to publish these images? The overarching reality of the situation is that you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. I think it falls to the victims to make their case and pursue damages. From what I understand, the Royal family has only sought to end publication of the photos, nothing more, and it seems they have won one case in France. However, should some other celeb (or anyone) in the future decide to press for punitive measures on a similar matter, I think they should be able to do so and win.

And where would you draw the line? I guess I already alluded to this in my last answer. I don't know if there is any preemptive measure that could or should be taken other than to let it be known to publishers that, should they evoke the ire of their photo subjects, trouble may ensue.

T-Rav said...

I don't think the press should be allowed to publish naked pictures of anyone. For one thing, I'm a prude, and for another, I agree with you that this is not what the First Amendment is for. I don't see how this is possibly something the public needs to be aware of, not even in Britain. And it's not something I care about seeing.

rlaWTX said...

Western society has moved so far beyond the limits of "good taste" that it is mind-boggling to look backward just a few years.

As for the question, why aren't there "peeping tom" limitations to this situation? If it had been non-famous folks, could they have filed charges? And if so, most places make it so you can't profit from an illegal act, don't they?
So, I guess, yes, I think that there should be an assumption of privacy that, when violated, can be enforced - regardless of famousness.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I'm with you, basically. I'm not sure where I'd draw the line between criminal and civil liability, but a line does need to be drawn. I think using high-powered telephoto lenses could somehow be worked into the area of trespass.

BevfromNYC said...

All I can say is why couldnt' have been Wills instead...is that wrong of me?

Actually, I think there is probably this huge reaction because of the nude Harry incident in Vegas a few weeks ago. I assume that this was a large estate with high fences and lots of shrubbery and not the typical middle-class neighborhood backyard. That is why there ARE large estates with high fences, to protect the privacy of the inhabitants and their guests from unwanted scrutiny. This is very different from Harry playing strip poker in Vegas with too many people with camera phones.

Oh the other hand it is very hard to make Kate Middleton look undignified as she is probably THE most dignified and graceful of the British Royal Family. And I am sure that she wil weather this little storm with her usual grace and dignity intact. Especially if they announce that she is going to have a little heir to the throne soon...

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Strong opinions! I agree with you.

For one thing, I see no public interest in naked photos unless the person has ventured out into the public square. But further, as you say, it's just not reasonable to blame the victim here for not protecting themselves against a high tech invasion of privacy. This wasn't someone in a suburb getting jiggy in their backyard. This really was a private estate. And with the advances in modern technology, there will come a point where nowhere is safe.

I agree that you can't put the toothpaste back into the tube, but courts should be able to either stop the publication in advance and/or grant sufficient damages to make publishers think twice. And I agree that invasions of privacy should be criminally punishable to deter the taking of these images in the first place.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, The only exception I could see to the no nudity rule is if you're talking about something like a politician or someone else in a position of trust, who has gone out and done something naked in public. But even then, I don't know that you need to publish the images itself. It should be enough to report their lack of discretion -- unless they try to deny it happened.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I'm not 100% sure the peeping Tom laws would work because they were outside. It wasn't like the photographer was actually trespassing or peering into windows. So I'm not sure this was actually illegal. That said, I agree with tryanmax that this should have been illegal if for no other reason as an invasion of privacy. Reasonable minds can differ, but that's how I see it.

And you're right, our culture is well past the point of good taste. In fact, vulgar seems to have become a selling strategy.

T-Rav said...

Andrew and rla, you should visit Sweden sometime. Then get back to me about how vulgar our culture is. (Not that ours is anything to write home about, of course.)

LL said...

I've been trying to get them to print naked photos of me, but, sadly, they're not interested... :^)

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I agree. This is a hard line to draw because there are obviously so many exceptions and drawing bright line rules in that case becomes difficult.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Yes, that is wrong of you. LOL!

You are correct that this was not just another house. This was a private, isolate estate in the mountains. I do believe they had high fences. But the location of the photographer overlooked the house from a distance.

I agree with you that she'll weather this fine. She's got a lot of dignity, plus she has a lot of good will built up around the world. That will serve her well in this.

Plus, truth be told, nude photos get old the moment the next scandal comes along.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Are you anti-Sweden or something? Don't forget, they did give us the Swedish chef! ;)

AndrewPrice said...

LL, I know the feeling.

//sigh

Anthony said...

Andrew,

In case my sarcasm was lost (shakes fist at internet) let me clearly state that IMHO there is no public interest (in the legal sense) in violating someone's privacy and showing photos of the violation.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, "shakes fist at internet"... LOL!

I agree with you. And no, I didn't get the sarcasm before. Sorry. :(

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Let me add that I agree with you that the comparison between this and Harry is instructive. Harry put himself in a position where bad things could happen to him. Kate really didn't.

DUQ said...

Shoot them all and let Kodak sort them out! ;)

Sorry, I just thought of that.

I agree that there is no public interest here. This is purely peeping tom stuff and should be criminalized.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, LOL! Very nice.

I agree, this is basically the public's Peeping Tom Instinct.

DUQ said...

Also, naked pictures of the Obamas most definitely would NOT be in the public interest.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Yeah, that's not in the public interest. I can't imagine very many politicians who should ever be seen naked. Blech.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - and an even bigger issue is better and better satellite technology can and iwll render the concept of privacy completely null and void. So this issue needs to be made clear as to what "privacy" really means.

BTW - I read a headline that the French court agrees with the British Royals on this...

"A French court ordered a magazine publisher to hand over all digital copies of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge within 24 hours and blocked further publication of what it called a "brutal display" of William and Kate's private moments."

tryanmax said...

I can't imagine very many politicians who should ever be seen naked.

I dunno. Morbid curiosity makes me wonder what the big deal is about Bill Clinton. I mean, it's obviously nothing that can be seen when his clothes are on. /sarc

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, That's true. You wouldn't believe the imagines they can take by satellite now. I know a lot of it is still restricted, but the things they have let out basically mean they can read documents from space. And as that becomes more commercial, you can bet that people will begin to use it to spy on competitors or take sleazy pictures. And who know what's coming next? How long will it be before you can take pictures through walls?

This does need to be sorted out before these things become commonplace.

I saw that about the French court. Two points, however, the Italians have already published the images so they are out there on the net already. So this is a Pyrrhic victory.

Secondly, French law and US law are very different, so they may not get the same result here with our First Amendment. Hence, my question.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Do you remember the rumors of him having a broken wangdoodle? It seemed at one point that because of the Lewinski thing that he might have become the first President to be forced by a court to drop his pants. Yikes!

ellenB said...

I don't know if I should laugh or what at the image you've chosen. I think I'll laugh! LOL!

tryanmax said...

All I know is that reality is often disappointing. Things are asymmetrical, the colors different than expected, there are spots on everything... Some stuff is better left to the imagination.

ellenB said...

On the topic, I think it's an invasion of privacy and I think it should be criminal, even if they are famous. I can understand if they were out there doing it in a public road or something, but this is wrong.

And no, I don't want to see the Obamas naked either... or Bill Clinton.

AndrewPrice said...

Ellen, You should laugh! It will brighten your day. :)

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, In my experience, reality is almost always disappointing. That's just the way life is. I try not to let that get me down. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Ellen, I concur. And yeah, I don't want to see any of our politicians naked either.

Kit said...

Sorry, couldn't resist.

And, yeah, the thought of most politicians nude creates a mental image that is just too horrifying.

Though there are a few exceptions (Hint: They are all Republican). ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I'm sticking with my "no politicians" plan.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, don't be too quick to defend them. I have it on good authority that that Swedish chef will be in the next "Dragon Tattoo" movie.

****

Lars Njorkstrom, a Stockholm short-order cook with a genial exterior and twisted personal life no one can discover, except that it involves leather and mooses. Will Lisbeth Salander fall victim to his deviancy? Find out next spring in "The Girl With The Yumpin' Yimminy"!

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Very nicely done! I believe I heard the same thing about the sequel! LOL!

Individualist said...

Why is it Ok to show videos of people secretly caught having private relations but it is not OK to watcfh such same relations hiding behind a bush.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I'm not sure it's ok to show the sex tapes either, not without consent.

rlaWTX said...

I meant modern Western Civ. as a whole is a disaster. But IDK that Eastern Civ is all that grand either... so, I guess I really mean HUMANITY is screwed up!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, More true words have never been spoken -- humanity is a mess.

T-Rav said...

Ellen, I was under the impression that, being a woman, you were filled with an uncontrollable desire to see Bill Clinton naked. He's so charming, after all.

Kit said...

"Ellen, I was under the impression that, being a woman, you were filled with an uncontrollable desire to see Bill Clinton naked. He's so charming, after all."

How?!
Maybe its because I'm a guy I don't get it. :)

ellenB said...

T-Rav, Hardly. He's one of the last men on earth I'd want to see naked.

ellenB said...

Kit, See my response. Speaking for a great many women everywhere, I have no desire to see Clinton naked. Yuck.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think you've been listening to the wrong people my friend. I have yet to meet a woman who found Bill Clinton irresistible.

Now Hillary... that's different. ;)

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, LOL! I think, what you're missing, is that liberals often go into hero worship mode. And Clinton became a liberal hero. He was the first young, moderate Democrat in the White House since JFK and I think a lot of liberal responded to that by trying to recreate Camelot.

Little did they know Camelot is a strip club these days.

AndrewPrice said...

Ellen, Nice work confirming my faith in humanity. :)

rlaWTX said...

YUCK YUCK YUCK
T-Rav! I now have the overpowering need for brain bleach!

Andrew: Bravo! "Little did they know Camelot is a strip club these days."

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, "YUCK YUCK YUCK" -- LOL!

We should sell Commentarama Brain Bleach. I think we could make a fortune!

Individualist said...

Andrew

It may not be legal but in the common culture or what passes for it these days it is certainly OK.

Tell someone they can get a sneak peak at some famous hottie if they come stand behind a bush and look into their bedroom and most people would yell pervert at you.

Yet offer essentially the same thing streamed over the web and half the people will jump at the chance to see it.

I find it strange in a way. As if the fact that we are not seeing the act live somehow changes people's perceptions of it.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I think it's about the anonymity of it. The net has made it easier for people to act upon their worst instincts because they can do it without anyone knowing about it. And I think that has changed perceptions about right and wrong a good deal.

Still, there clearly are some limits.

Koshcat said...

Due to the distance, the pictures weren't even all that clear! I felt I needed to review the pictures first so that I may comment intelligently.

This was clearly an invasion of privacy no different than if someone waited in a tree outside your home hoping to snap a picture of you reading Cosmo on the can.

Throw a couple of these photographers into jail and I think we would see fewer invasions. Just because there is a market for the pictures doesn't justify it.

I would be pissed, and not in the British way, if someone snapped pictures of my wife from a mile away. Those tatas are for my enjoyment only. I think it would only be fair for the young prince to be allowed to kick the photographers ass in public.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I concur. I would be pissed too if it was my wife and the photographer better go into hiding fast.

I think you are very right when you say, "just because there is a market for the pictures doesn't justify it."

I think you're right too that it wouldn't take too many jail sentences for this sort of stuff to stop.

Jen said...

Ellen, I'm with you on not wanting to see Clinton naked. EEEEEWWWWWWW! Just the thought is disgusting. It makes me think of Al Bundy catching a naked glimpse of his neighbor Marcy and says "My eyes, my eyes, I can't see!"

AndrewPrice said...

Jen, LOL! Nice reference! Of course, I would have the same response about pretty much any of our political class.

Jen said...

Andrew, I was going to write something else, but decided against it (I really wasn't sure it would violate your "statement"). Then, the Al Bundy thing came to mind, and it was even better!

AndrewPrice said...

Jen, The Al Bundy thing works.

Jen said...

Andrew, Al made me laugh!

AndrewPrice said...

Jen, He was funny for a long time.

Jen said...

Andrew, In keeping with the theme (article & MWC), Al's favorite place--The Nudie Bar!

AndrewPrice said...

Jen, True. And if this had happened at a nuddie bar, then my opinion would be different about the invasion of privacy.

Jen said...

Andrew, I agree with that. The same goes if someone willingly poses nude for a magazine or movie (that includes modeling--I'm thinking Vanessa Williams on this one), then as far as I'm concerned, it's fair game.

I don't know if you agree with this or not, but I think that if a person even has any thought of doing something later in life where a nude photo could surface, and potentially cause problems, I say "Don't do it".

I just read recently where some actress refuses to do nude scenes. I don't actively seek that kind of stuff out, I happened to see it.

AndrewPrice said...

Jen, If someone put their own image out there, then have no privacy rights. There's no doubt about that.

I agree, don't do nude scenes unless you're absolutely sure it won't come back to bite you in the rear.

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