Case Law, France: Leonardo DiCaprio v Oops! Magazine, Damages and order for publication of judicial findings over false “pregnancy” story

11 08 2015

Ooops LeonardoOn 27 July 2015, the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris awarded damages of €8,000 to the actor Leonardo DiCaprio for interference with his private life and his image rights. Oops! magazine was ordered to publish a statement summarising the decision on the front cover.  The judgment (DiCaprio v Oops!) is available in only in French.

Background

In its issue 188 of 13 to 28 May 2015, Oops! magazine published an article with the headline “Rihanna pregnant by Leonardo!” and the sub-heading “And he doesn’t want the child“.  This was announced on the front page and was described as “exclusive”.

The article dealt with the alleged pregnancy of Rihanna and Leonardo DiCaprio’s refusal to assume paternity. There were three photographs of Rihanna and two of Leonardo DiCaprio which he said were stolen.

It was argued that the article proceeded by pure assertion without qualification or reservation but affected an intimate aspect of private life and were false.

Oops! argued that Leonardo DiCaprio had regularly spoken about his relationships and that his relationship with Rihanna was very well known.  The photographs in question were taken at formal events where Mr DiCaprio was acting as a UN Messenger for Peace  or taken in the street.

Judgment

The Court noted that the subject matter of the article was not a supposed relationship between Mr DiCaprio and Rihanna – which they had denied.

Rather, the article was about Rihanna’s supposed pregnancy and Mr DiCaprio’s attitude to it.  He was said to fled at full speed and, that assuming that Rihanna kept the child “he will not recognize it“.  There was a box in large letters stating “The baby, he does not want it“.

The Court concluded that having regard to the particularly intimate nature of such a revelation and the absence of any supporting evidence there was no question of the provision of legitimate information to the public.

The photographs were taken without the knowledge of the person concerned or were arranged to support the idea of a connection between Rihanna and Mr DiCaprio.

In relation to remedy, the issue of Oops! magazine had sold more than 150,000 copies.  However, the magazine claims that Mr DiCaprio had suffered no damage.  He had used the media to build his career and had publicly displayed his many conquests.

However, the magazine only produced a single interview in which Mr DiCaprio had spoken in extremely general terms on his ideal wife.  The other evidence consisted only of journalistic comments.

As a result, Mr DiCaprio was awarded €8,000 as compensation for moral damage.

The magazine was ordered to publish, on the cover of the next available issue, the following words

“By order of July 27, 2015 the judge of the tribunal de grande instance de Paris condemned the company Oops! and the editor of Ooops! Magazine to pay provisional compensation to Leonardo Di Caprio for having published in its issue 188, of 13 to 28 in May 2015, an article interfering with the respect for his privacy and his image rights” 

This was to be published without any additional comment.  The order was that the statement should be

“in a box on white background occupying, across its entire width, the bottom third of the page and of a size to containing the whole text, in perfectly legible form, in bold and black capital letters, under the title, itself in bold capital letters, red, 1.5 cm high

Comment

This is an interesting decision based on “false privacy”.  The story about the “pregnancy” and Mr DiCaprio’s attitude to it was invented but were, nevertheless, a plain interference with his private life.  The use of photographs taken without consent was an interference with Mr DiCaprio’s “image rights”.

It is is not entirely clear how the case would have been decided in England. Although the notion of “false privacy” is now well established in English law (see our post here) cases based on it remain relatively rare.  There is an overlap with defamation – the false accusation that Mr DiCaprio was abandoning his pregnant girlfriend.  This might have led an English Court to approach the case from the perspective of defamation rather than privacy.

Mr DiCaprio would not, on the current state of the English law, have had a maintainable claim for breaches of his “image rights” (see our post about the Weller case).

The French court had no hesitation in rejecting an argument – familiar in English cases – based on the “courting of publicity” by Mr DiCaprio.  On analysis, save for one interview in general terms, the articles relied on by the magazine were not based on his own statements and there was no evidence that he used his private life to promote his career.

An interesting aspect of the case from an English point of view was the Court’s power to order the publication of a statement of its decision – on the front page of the magazine.  The Court added clear directions to make sure that the statement was properly presented.

The website Gossip Cop reported that, reacting to the decision, the owner of Oops!, Frederic Truskolaski, described Leonardo DiCaprio as a “a pervert” and a “racist” who has a “racial issue”.  His remarks would appear to give rise to another, more straightforward, defamation claim. Mr Truskolaski can have been surprised that Mr DiCaprio might object to the story.  He had said that when the magazine published “we didn’t know” if Rihanna was pregnant.

In the end the moral of the case is perhaps simply that sensational made up tabloid stories are likely to be subject to legal sanction and that, however famous a person is, they retain protectable privacy rights.


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