Facebook photos: RocknRoll v News Group Newspapers
The High Court has granted an interim injunction preventing the Sun from publishing embarrassing Facebook photos of Edward RocknRoll, who married Kate Winslet in December 2012.
The photographs had been taken at a private party in 2010 and showed Mr RocknRoll partially naked, engaged in “rather silly, schoolboy-like behaviour.” They were posted on Facebook by another guest at the party and were available to 1,500 of the other guest’s friends, until a change in his privacy settings resulted in them being available to the general public.
The judge found that Mr RocknRoll had a reasonable expectation of privacy mainly because: (1) the photographs had been taken at a private party and on private premises; (2) although he had consented to the photographs being taken at the time, he had not anticipated that they would be printed in a national publication; and (3) he was not a public figure who courted publicity in his relationship with Ms Winslet.
Although the photographs were available on Facebook to the general public for a short period (and available to 1,500 individuals before that), there was no evidence of widespread publication. The photographs had been removed from the guest’s Facebook page (presumably) upon hearing that the Sun intended to publish them. Searching for Mr RocknRoll on the internet did not reveal the photographs, nor did a simple search of the guest’s Facebook page.
It was held that there was no public interest in publishing the photographs and they did not add anything beyond mere titillation. The judge also considered there was a real risk that publication of the photographs would cause significant distress to Ms Winslet’s children, with whom Mr RocknRoll was building a relationship.
While individuals who attend private events at private premises may have a reasonable expectation of privacy, the extensive use of social networking sites has meant that they will have less control over the distribution of photographs. In this case, the potential distress that national publication would have caused to Ms Winslet’s children added significant weight to Mr RocknRoll’s arguments.
Individuals should take care when publishing photographs on social networking sites and when allowing others to publish photographs of oneself. Social networking sites may update privacy settings and it is important to check that you do not unwittingly make publicly available photographs you originally intended to keep private.