Almost three months after the House of Lords upheld Naomi Campbell's privacy claim and one month after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found for Princess Caroline of Hanover in hers, there is little evidence that the press's interest in celebrities has been curbed.
The end of a relationship is a private matter. But the ins and outs of the break-up of boy-wonder Wayne Rooney from fiancee Colleen, together with distressing allegations of his playing away from home, were reported not just to Colleen but to the entire British public. And the private affairs of Sven Goran Eriksson have become equally public. Photographs of him with a Football Association secretary published in the national newspapers allegedly led to the breakdown of his stormy relationship with Nancy Dell'Olio, with resounding repercussions for his professional life, too.
Despite a run of claimant-friendly privacy decisions, Fleet Street shows no sign of reining in its photographers. Perhaps this is because the case law does not precisely define where the line is to be drawn.
If Naomi Campbell and Princess Caroline were to become best friends and were snapped on a private shopping trip, could the resulting pictures be published? Not according to the judges of the ECHR which found that photos in the German magazines Bunte and Neue Post, of the princess skiing and shopping, invaded her privacy. The German law, which did not sufficiently protect the privacy of a public figure "par excellence" such as she unless in a secluded place out of the public eye, effectively condemned her to a life with an entourage of paparazzi. While glimpses of her private life were interesting and entertaining to the public, according to the judges their "sole purpose was to satisfy the curiosity of a particular readership"; they did not contribute to "any debate of general interest to society".
Contrast this with what was said by our Law Lords in Campbell's case. She won her claim that the meat put on the bones of a legitimate story outing her as a drug addict - including surreptitiously taken photographs - had infringed her privacy. But according to Baroness Hale, "If this had been... a picture of Naomi Campbell going about her business in a public street, there could have been no complaint... Readers will obviously be interested to see how she looks if and when she pops out to the shops for a bottle of milk". Lord Hope concurred that street shots were "one of the ordinary incidents of living in a free community." So gossip magazines would be free to snap the Streatham girl buying her daily pinta, but could not publish the princess with hers.
Paul Mottram, legal adviser at MGN Limited, rejects any suggestions of inconsistency. "The court in the Caroline case clearly made its decision with one eye on the harassment that she had suffered from the press, rather than completely on the intrusiveness, or otherwise, of the photographs themselves".
Mark Bateman, a partner specialising in media at the London firm Davenport Lyons, said that what was clear to publications was that they should "stay away from children and obviously private moments". Any uncertainty as to what those "obviously private moments" are does not seem to be bothering the magazine industry. Heat recently offered its readers "100 per cent unapproved. Stars making utter fools of themselves", and Star magazine proposed "Don't print that! Photos the stars don't want you to see". Listen as hard as you might, it's not easy to …