‘Rome II’ European privacy law set to invade UK media

UK media companies could soon lose the battle to keep privacy laws out of the UK because of an EU proposal allowing claimants to sue for privacy using the law of any country where the material has been published.

The proposed new law, known as ‘Rome II’, will allow claimants so sue UK media companies on privacy grounds using the stringent privacy laws of countries such as France and Germany as long as the material was made available there, for example over the internet.

Although celebrities such as Naomi Campbell and the Douglases are suing The Daily Mirror and Hello! magazine respectively on privacy grounds in the UK, this country does not have an established law of privacy and the Government has so far refused to introduce one.

Last year, German chancellor Gerhard Schroder won an injunction stopping German press reports speculating about the state of his marriage using the German privacy laws, but failed to gag the Daily Mail from repeating the allegations.

Under Rome II, Schroder could have kept such allegations out of the UK media as long as the material had also been published in Germany.

In-house lawyers from the BBC, the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA) and The Times are lobbying the House of Lords European Union Select Committee to put pressure on Brussels
to have Rome II amended.

Rome II also applies to defamation cases and could result in UK newspapers having to pay libel damages under the laws of 100 different countries if defamatory material is published over the internet.

“A UK-based publication about a businesswoman with an international reputation could result in a UK court having to apply, and award damages, from over 100 different legal systems, even though the publication might be lawful under the law of England and Wales,” said PPA head of public and legal affairs Clare Hoban.