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?