An American photographer accused by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas of being involved in leaking their wedding photos to Hello! magazine after they had signed an exclusive deal with rival OK!, has won a High Court battle to remove himself from legal action launched by the couple.
Philip Ramey, who was never alleged to have taken the photos but was said by the couple to have obtained the copyright in New York and to have been commissioned to provide them for $75,000 (£48,000) or more, succeeded in having the action against him dismissed.
The trial of the case, in which the Douglases and the publisher of OK! are suing five other defendants, most notably Hello!, for damages, is expected early next year.
Mr Justice Laddie, allowing Ramey’s application, ruled there was no reasonable allegation of wrongdoing raised against the photographer that could be actionable in the UK.
He said a key part of Ramey’s case was that any legal action against him should be taken in the US courts.
He said Ramey’s acts of receiving and selling the photographs would be actionable under New York law if they could be shown to breach the celebrities’ rights of privacy, but he added: "Such rights are subject to a very broad privilege or exemption in the case of events which are ‘newsworthy’.
"There can be no doubt the Zeta-Jones/Douglas wedding was newsworthy. It is described by the claimants in their particulars of claim as ‘one of the most talked-about, publicised and alluring celebrity events of the year’."
The judge rejected claims that Ramey could be sued in the UK as part of a conspiracy with other defendants, because no evidence of an intention on the photographer’s part to injure the claimants had been shown.
"In this case there is no allegation and, incidentally, no evidence that Mr Ramey’s actions in New York were motivated by anything other than a desire to make money," he said. "There is nothing to suggest he had any ill-feeling towards the claimants." The judge said the identity of the person who took the photographs remained unknown.
By Roger Pearson