The royal couple's celebration of an injunction granted by a French court, designed to prevent further publication of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge, seems likely to be short-lived. In this digital age, images cross frontiers at a velocity mere injunctions can't match.
The details of the story are familiar enough. William and Kate were holidaying at a private château, when photographs of the Duchess sunbathing on a terrace were taken, apparently from some distance away, and using a telephoto lens. Some 200 photographs are rumored to exist. A French magazine, Closer, published a relatively small selection. More have since been published by Italian and Irish magazines.
As soon as the story broke, the palace lurched into action with all the agility and relevance of a sauropod (that's a slow-moving dinosaur, to save Googling). They brought legal action against the first magazine to publish the pictures, and won a judgment preventing the magazine from re-publishing them, hosting them on its Website, or distributing them by any means.
Some reports even suggest that the photographs are to be "returned" to the royals -- as if they owned them in the first place. I suppose the content represents, in some figurative way, stolen property. One might think we are dealing with a set of priceless daguerrotypes or gelatin silver prints. Perhaps one might return them as one might return the famously stolen painting "The Concert" by Jan Vermeer.
Of course, it's precisely not physical photographs we're dealing with here, but images -- digital images -- as the palace seems painfully slow to realize. Privacy is a value which most of us -- notwithstanding Mark Zuckerberg's strictures -- would wish to defend. At the same time, once images are loose in the wild, rounding them up is bound to be just about impossible.
Apart from the continuing publication of the photos by magazines against which no injunction has yet been sought, it's necessary to recognize that images, once uploaded to the Internet, are readily downloaded by anyone and everyone, and can be uploaded again at any time. Anyone who is interested has probably clicked to see these photos already. They can be seen today, and it's unlikely -- short of a Web meltdown -- that they will ever vanish.
Perhaps, it might be argued, William and Kate are playing a longer game. Its legal maneuvers send a warning shot that publications will not profit from intruding on their privacy. One response is that, as far as the world outside the "Commonwealth Realm" is concerned, Kate Middleton is just a celebrity. As the editor of the Irish Daily Star said: "The Duchess would be no different to any other celeb pics we would get in, for example Rihanna or Lady Gaga."
Nevermind privacy -- the age of deference is over.
Also, it's unlikely that the risk of an injunction after the fact makes publishing such pictures less financially attractive. The French court has imposed a fine of some $13,000 a day if Closer magazine does not comply with the injunction (it doubtless will). Yet Closer anticipates doubling its sales with the Middleton photo edition.
There's a lesson for all of us in this, especially when it comes to making casual contribtions to social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. No matter how limited you think circulation of your posts and images will be -- and no matter what privacy controls you impose on your Facebook page -- the Internet is the best tool ever invented for copying and distributing content. Once it's out there, it's out there.
Also, as Prince Harry learned the hard way last month, think twice about doing anything in private that you wouldn't be willing to do in public. Harsh? That's the world we now live in.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution