Modfather High Court decision gives high profile parents pointers on protecting children in the digital agePosted on
Weller & Ors v Associated Newspapers Limited 
A UK court recently awarded Paul Weller’s three children a total of £10,000 damages for misuse of private information.
The claim was brought after the Mail Online published seven unpixelated pictures of the singer songwriter and three of his children shopping in Santa Monica, California. Some of these photographs showed the fully visible faces of the three children. Mr Weller, acting as litigation friend for his children, brought an action for misuse of private information and breach of the Data Protection Act, and an injunction.
MailOnline argued that the unpixelated photographs were not unlawful and the Claimants should not be entitled to any relief, primarily because they had chosen to be open about their private family life previously.
The Judge concluded that the photographs were published in circumstances where the children had a reasonable expectation of privacy. This was because the photographs showed their faces whilst they were on a private family trip with their father and were identified by their surname. What had been said or published by various members of the Weller family in interviews or social media did not affect the reasonable expectation of privacy on the part of the children in this case.
The court’s decision was only a reinforcement of established law on privacy but helpful advice for parents in the public eye can be gleaned from Mr Justice Dingeman’s judgment:
1) Be very selective about what private information you voluntarily place about your private family life in the public space – including on your own social media accounts.
The judge in this case decided the children did have a reasonable expectation of privacy despite Paul Weller speaking about his family life in interviews and his wife Hannah posting photographs of the children on her Twitter account. It was decided that although Paul Weller had spoken about his family, it was a response to questions asked by interviewers and he “had never said anything to give any indication he would consent to photographs of the faces of his children”. Additionally, while the judge also accepted that Hannah Weller had shared a considerable amount of information in her tweets and was “naïve in some of her posts”, she had nonetheless taken considerable steps to avoid showing the faces of the children.
2) Monitor what is published about your family and be prepared to complain if necessary.
MailOnline argued that Paul and Hannah Weller had not complained about invasions of their privacy before, so why now? The family’s response was that up until then no photographs had been published which showed the full faces of the children.
3) Make it clear you do not consent to photographs of your children being taken or published.
An important consideration in deciding cases such as these is whether the photographs were taken or published in the knowledge that this would be objected to on behalf of the child. In this case, the absence of previous complaints from Paul and Hannah Weller in relation to coverage of the children did not constitute any sort of consent to the publication in this action as there were relevant differences about what could be seen of the children’s faces in previously published photographs. Had the previous photographs been of a similar nature then the decision may well have been different. However, when it comes to consent, it often pays to be pro-active – if paparazzi are taking photographs of your children, ask them to stop as well as asking them what publication they work for. Consider also sending a formal notice around to the major newspapers and magazines informing them that you do not consent to photographs being taken or published of your children.
This case serves to reinforce an important lesson for the press – in the absence of parents publicising identifiable photographs of their children, the press should not publish unpixelated photographs of children that are unrelated to a debate of general interest for the sole reason that their parents are well known.