Fascinating decision by the Press Complaints Commission today on a privacy complaint against Loaded magazine that involved images of a then-15-year-old girl’s breasts taken from the social network Bebo.
Web User puts it more succinctly than the decision itself, but for publishers it boils down to this: the complaint was rejected because the image had been circulated widely on the internet over the past four years – in fact, the decision says there were over 200,000 matches on an image search on this particular person as the “Epic boobs” girl.
“In other words – if it’s everywhere online, you’ve lost your right to privacy and in the case of the picture taker, perhaps to copyright too. Which is why everybody was last week furiously spreading the David Cameron Shepard Fairey image produced by The Sun, and why perhaps with enough spreading that Bullingdon Photo will be impossible to suppress too.”
What complicates the decision even further is that, while the girl was 15 when the images were published, she is now an adult - and was an adult when Loaded published the images:
“Issues of taste and offence – and any question of the legality of the material – could not be ruled upon by the Commission, which was compelled to consider only the terms of the Editors’ Code. The Code does include references to children but the complainant was not a child at the time the article was published.”
The distinction here is between harming a vulnerable person, and an image of a vulnerable person; or between the thing and the person. Publishing that image now does not harm an unprotected 19-year-old adult; publishing it 4 years ago would have harmed a vulnerable, and therefore protected, 15-year-old. But taking the picture 4 years ago would, I imagine, have constituted exploiting a vulnerable person and someone taking that picture could still be prosecuted now that she is 19.
Still with me?
Also on Press Gazette.