The Princess of Privacy


Who knew that sunbathing could cause such a scandal? Of course when the person sunbathing is the astoundingly popular Princess Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, the plot thickens. Remove a bikini top, and you’ve made international headlines.

Late last summer, Princess Kate was quietly enjoying a vacation with her husband, Prince William, at the Chateau d’Autet in Provence, France, a property owned by a nephew of Queen Elizabeth. Photos from the day, which included shots of Kate lounging around the pool sans bikini top, and her husband applying sunscreen to her rump, began to circulate the European tabloid market.  While publications in England refused to publish the photos, on September 13, 2012, the French edition of Closer magazine announced that they would publish the photographs of the princess. The royal couple was in Malaysia at the time of the announcement, but St. James Palace issued a statement condemning the actions on their behalf:

“Their Royal Highnesses have been hugely saddened to learn that a French publication and a photographer have invaded their privacy in such a grotesque and totally unjustifiable manner. The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to the Duke and Duchess for being so. Their Royal Highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them.”

France is legendary for their strict privacy laws; “Everyone has the right to respect for his private life,” as stated in Article 9 of France’s civil code. What is complicated in French law is a clear definition of “private life.” This is because the legislature has not made any effort to comport a standard definition for “private life” in legal proceedings.  French case law has not been helpful in defining the term either. Merci!

On September 17, 2012, the royal couple made a formal criminal complaint to the French Prosecution Department. The courts quickly granted an injunction against Closer magazine, prohibiting further publication of the pictures and also announced that a criminal investigation would commence.

The investigation concluded on July 26th, 2013, with Closer Editor, Laurence Pieau, being charged with breaching France’s privacy laws. Pieau, along with Publishing Director Ernesto Mauri, and photographer Valerie Suau, face the possibility of one year in prison and a fine of £15,000. The penalty for a corporation that violates Article 9 is the cessation of business for 5 years, public notification of the decision, and a fine of £45,000. It is important to keep in mind that the photos were taken a half mile away from the subjects with a powerful camera. There was no security guarding the street where the photographer took the shoots and Princess Kate made no effort to conceal herself while outdoors. Pieau has displayed zero remorse in her decision to publish the photos, stating, “These photos are not in the least shocking.” She has a point, because as Pieau states, “the photos show a young woman sunbathing topless, like the millions of women you see on beaches.” Americans, we’re talking about beaches in Europe! The only difference here is that this young woman is the future Queen consort of England.

Should a royal title confer stricter scrutiny under French law?

How far should a person’s privacy bubble extend?

Is the Royal Family acting with extra caution in order to prevent Kate from becoming the next Diana? If so, what result will this have on the privacy rights for non-royals in France and around Europe?

Furthermore, why were naked pictures of Prince Harry published in British tabloids, while the same papers refused to print pictures of Princess Kate?




  1. There is an apparent double standard between the Sun’s posting pictures of Prince Harry and their apparent refusal to do the same when it involved pictures of Duchess Kate, which may be attributable to a customary bias to be more protective of females.

    However, I think a more likely answer as to why the Sun ran the risqué pictures of Prince Harry and declined to do so with Duchess Kate is because of the manner in which the pictures were taken. Prince Harry’s pictures were taken during a night of partying in Las Vegas. He was in a hotel room with people he did not know well, and it should not have surprised him that one of the party-goers would have a camera on them. Duchess Kate, on the other hand, was in relative isolation enjoying the company of her husband. While one could argue that someone in Kate’s position should be well-aware of the capabilities of telephoto lenses, I believe many people would agree she had the right to expect some privacy.

    That said, I believe the Sun’s decision to publish or not publish the photos was probably based on one simple thing: money. There was probably some sort of cost/benefit analysis to determine whether the backlash would outweigh the increased sales, or vice versa. While it was foreseeable that Duchess Kate would be cast as a victim of an over-intrusive paparazzi, the circumstances surrounding Prince Harry’s unfortunate situation were unlikely to elicit the same sympathy. For better or for worse, money talks.

  2. How far should a person’s privacy bubble extend? A person’s privacy is very limited because it is not a fundamental right in many countries. Smart phones, computers, and new technology have made privacy a notion of the past. The government has many resources that enables them to access everyone’s phone calls and emails. Many governments put wiretaps on phone lines and monitored emails without the use of warrants. This is a huge invasion on people’s privacy. However, people diminished their own privacy through their extensive use of the computer and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Nowadays, the government is not the only one who can track someone down. I am not very savvy when it comes to the use of computers or smart phones, but I can tell you several ways to figure out where someone is at a given moment in time, who they have spoken to recently and I am able to access their deleted texts. For people who are more knowledgeable about the use of computers, I fear what they can find. Private citizens have very little privacy; for a person who is a famous and constantly in the public eye like Princess Kate and Prince William, their privacy is close to nonexistent.

  3. From topless sunbathers to the civil codes, Europe is very different from the United States. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press play a big role in America, thus we get our daily dish of Weiner’s scandals and Spitzer dramas. But publications in England refused to publish the photos of the Duchess of Cambridge, seemingly out of respect for her royal status (despite the fact that Prince Harry’s nude pictures for whatever reason went viral). The Closer magazine in France, however, was happy to share the publication. This does not surprise me, France and England were never the best of friends, and although I believe the injunction will stand, I do not think that the editor and publishing staff will be penalized because Article 9 of France’s civil code is vague. “Respect to private life” probably will not be applicable in this case where an individual, regardless, of her status, was sunbathing in the open public. The photos were snapped from half a mile away, and there was no security guarding the street, so the paparazzi deemed Princess Kate fair game. And although I would like the privacy bubble to extend to the Princess and to other celebrities and even to us ordinary folk, in this day and age everything seems to be fair game.

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