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Stars 'cashing in' on strict privacy laws
[January 23, 2006]

Stars 'cashing in' on strict privacy laws

(The Daily Telegraph, Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)FRANCE'S film stars and public figures have been accused of exploiting strict privacy laws as a valuable source of extra income.

According to the author of a book attacking those personalities who turn most readily to the French courts, 10 individuals accounted for more than half the pounds 2 million awarded in one two-year period.

Jean-Paul Champagne, a commentator on the popular press, named the leading members of the Monaco royal family, Prince Albert and his sisters Caroline and Stephanie, as the most litigious of the famous.

The actor Gerard Depardieu, his former girlfriend Carole Bouquet, an actress, and France's best known television newsreader, Claire Chazal, were also cited as examples of those with an appetite for legal redress against, in particular, celebrity magazines.

Princess Stephanie, he claims in his book The Stars' Mafia, was the worst example, with her own lawyer confirming that she had won 330 of 348 actions brought between 1994 and 2003.

Her gains from these cases amounted to about pounds 1.5 million, he said.

Stars argue that they have a right to protect themselves against unwarranted intrusion and their lives would be made intolerable if they did not fight back against aggressive coverage.

"As it happens, I think the French law defending everyone's right to privacy is a good one,'' Mr Champagne told The Daily Telegraph. "My objections are to the way the law is applied and its use by stars as a form of business.

"It always seems to be the same people who lodge complaints.''

More than three million copies of magazines devoted to celebrities are sold in France each week.

Mr Champagne - who used to work for one of them, Voici - estimates that between 600 and 700 actions are brought each year, with awards of up to pounds 35,000, but typically ranging from pounds 10,000 to pounds 15,000.

Paris Match was recently ordered to pay Prince Albert the maximum sum and to devote a third of its front cover to the judgment for revealing, with the mother's co-operation, the existence of his illegitimate son.

The magazine complained that the prince had himself confirmed the key facts in a statement and in subsequent interviews.

Some French editors point out that stars often choose to breach their own privacy in revealing books or interviews only to complain when the disclosures attract unwanted attention.

Even the selectively media-friendly Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister and would-be president, started or threatened action for alleged infringements of his privacy, or that of his wife, Cecilia, during their recent six-month separation.

Conscious of criticism that he and his wife had actively courted publicity, presenting themselves as the golden couple of French politics, he told a press gathering last week that he would never again discuss his private life in public.

"He brought it on his own head by his own actions, inviting the 'people' magazines into his home,'' said Mr Champagne. "It was a dangerous game he was playing.''

He added that Emmanuelle Beart, whose career took off with the 1986 film Manon des Sources, also used the law to defend her privacy, although she was "not in the premier league of litigants''.

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