French ruling expected on topless royal photo

Associated Press
Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, smile as they watch a shark ceremony as they arrive at Marapa Island, Solomon Islands, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, Pool)
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NANTERRE, France (AP) — A French court is deciding Tuesday whether to block further publication of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge, whose lawyer say Prince William and Kate were sharing a private moment that was captured by an intrusive photographer.

The court in Nanterre, outside Paris, said there would be a ruling at noon on the request to stop Closer from publishing the images any further, including on its website and tablet application. The magazine published 14 images of a partially clad Kate in its pages on Friday.

On Monday, an Italian magazine, Chi, published a 26-page spread of the photos of Kate. Chi, like Closer, is part of the Italian publishing house Mondadori, owned by former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. An Irish tabloid published more photos over the weekend.

The royal couple was sharing a "healthy and profoundly intimate" moment when the photos were taken, their lawyer, Aurelien Hamelle, told the court on Monday. The situation was "deeply personal."

Hamelle told the court that he is seeking €5,000 ($6,550) in damages from Closer and an injunction forcing the magazine to stop publication elsewhere, including on the Internet. He also asked the court to fine Closer €10,000 ($13,100) a day for each day the injunction is not respected, and €100,000 ($131,000) if the photos are sold in France or abroad.

The photos show the Duchess of Cambridge relaxing at a private villa in Provence, in southern France, sometimes without her bathing suit top and, in one case, her suit bottom partially pulled down to apply sun screen.

William's St. James's Palace called the publications of the photos a "grotesque" invasion of the couple's privacy.

The case centers in part on just how private the villa was and whether, in effect, Kate was to some extent flaunting herself.

"It's not an accessible (view) from the exterior," Hamelle said of the site — a point contested by Closer's lawyer, Delphine Pando, who said the site is visible from a nearby road.

Pando asked the court to throw out the royal demand, arguing that the rights to the photos belong to an agency — which sold their use to Closer. She did not give the price or name the photographer.

That argument echoed the stance of the editor of Chi, the Italian magazine. Alfonso Signorini told The Associated Press over the weekend that he didn't fear legal action since the photos were already in the public domain following Closer's publication.

The case is the first of two legal actions by the royals. In a reflection of just how intent they are on protecting their privacy — and likely dissuading paparazzi from future ventures — St. James's Palace said Sunday the family lawyers would file a criminal complaint.

The Sipa news agency reported that the Nanterre prosecutor's office opened a preliminary investigation on Monday for breach of privacy, receiving and complicity. While no one was named, it would appear to cover the photographer or photographers involved in the case and possibly Closer. The palace said it would be up to French prosecutors to decide whether to investigate and pursue a criminal case for breach of privacy or trespassing.

Christopher Mesnooh, an American lawyer who works in Paris, said France strongly protects privacy but that tabloids have their reasons for publication, even when they might be in violation of the law.

"Closer magazine has done a very sophisticated cost-benefit analysis," Mesnooh told the AP. "Whatever the amount of damages that a French court will award, it will be a fraction of the publicity that the magazine will have gained as well as the number of issues of this particular issue of Closer magazine which will be sold."

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Nicole Winfield in Rome and David Stringer in London contributed to this report.

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