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J.K. Rowling wins case over photos of her young son

A court ruling in favor of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has set the stage for a trial on whether the publication of covert photos taken of her young son violates his privacy.
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

A court ruling in favor of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has set the stage for a trial on whether the publication of covert photos taken of her young son violates his privacy.

The Court of Appeal says the children of famous parents have the same right to expect privacy as the children of parents who are not well known.

The ruling Wednesday sets aside an earlier finding in favor of Express Newspapers and Big Picture, an agency that took the photos with a long telephoto lens.

Rowling and her husband Dr. Neil Murray took the case to court on behalf of their son David. The child is now 5. The photos in question were taken when he was 18 months old.

The judge says the case should now go to trial unless it can be settled.

The initial claim by Rowling and her husband was thrown out by a London court last year, prompting the couple to appeal.

In a written judgment on Wednesday, a panel of judges upheld the appeal, a ruling which Rowling and husband Neil Murray welcomed.

“We understand and accept that with the success of Harry Potter there will be a measure of legitimate media and public interest in Jo’s (Rowling’s) professional activities and appearances,” the couple said in a statement.

“However, we have striven to give our children a normal family life outside the media spotlight.

“We are immensely grateful to the court for giving our children protection from covert, unauthorized photography; this ruling will make an immediate and material difference to their lives.”

Anthony Clarke, one of the judges hearing the appeal, said the child of a famous parent should have the same rights as that of “ordinary” parents.

“If a child of parents who are not in the public eye could reasonably expect not to have photographs of him published in the media, so too should the child of a famous parent,” he said in the judgment.

The disputed photographs were taken Nov. 8, 2004, in Edinburgh while David was being pushed in a buggy by his parents.

They were published in a Sunday Express magazine, prompting Rowling, 42, and her husband to sue Express Newspapers and photo agency Big Pictures and seek to block further publication.

The Express settled the claim, but last August High Court judge Nicholas Patten threw out the case against the agency.

Rowling’s attorney, Keith Schilling, predicted the latest ruling could have a “profound effect ... on certain sections of the paparazzi.

“This case establishes a law of privacy for children in those cases where, understandably, the parents wish to protect their children from intrusive photography by the paparazzi,” he said.

“I am sure that the overwhelming majority of the media will welcome it.”

Big Pictures will have to pay the bulk of the costs of the case, expected to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.