The French law of defamation and privacy has developed with little or no direct interaction with the common law. French privacy law has, in recent years, provided strong protection – including for politicians (whose protection by English privacy law is severely limited by “public interest” considerations).
The French law also protects “image rights” in a way which is presently unknown in England. For example, President Sarkozy (pictured right) and his wife, Carla Bruni, recovered damages from Ryanair for the unauthorised use of a photograph of them in an advertising campaign.
However, the French influence on the case of law of the European Court of Human Rights means that there is now a convergence between the two legal traditions: both have to develop consistently with positive obligations to protect freedom of expression and reputation under Articles 10 and 8 of the Convention.
The French law of privacy is seen by some as a more appropriate way in which to deal with the balance between privacy and freedom of expression. At the recent Gray’s Inn forum on “Gagging the Media” (see our post here) playwright Tom Stoppard described Bénédicte Paviot’s account of the position in France as “sounding like civilisation”. However, the media are very strongly of the opposite view – regarding the French position as more akin to barbarism and (erroneously) suggesting that this law is responsible for the low circulation figures of French newspapers (in fact, circulations were low long before privacy law).
Nevertheless, whatever view is taken of the balance struck in France, its privacy law is a useful source of analysis for English lawyers. A useful short introduction to French Privacy Law can be found here on the “Kings Bench” blog from the Kings College School of Law. French speaking readers can follow developments in French privacy and defamation law on the website “Legalis.net” – which deals with the French case law under 9 headings – including “Diffamation” and “Vie privée”.
The French courts deal with many of the same kind of issues which have recently arisen in England – anonymous emailers, abusive bloggers and intrusive photographers. Their solutions are often similar. In the field e-commerce and data protection they are, after all, applying the same EU Directives as the English courts. More generally, they are also seeking to apply the Article 8 and 10 case law of the European Court of Human Rights.