European Court Upholds Privacy Rights for Celebrities

A decision last month by the European Court of Human Rights found that Spanish journalists infringed upon Mexican Singer Paulina Rubio’s privacy rights by publishing information about her private sex life, reversing a nearly decade-old decision by the Spain Supreme Court.

In 2005, Rubio sued a number of Spanish television stations, their broadcasters, and her former manager, after the stations broadcast an interview with the manager discussing Rubio’s sexuality, specifically whether or not she was bisexual. Her claims were dismissed in 2007. Spain’s Supreme Court upheld the decision in 2009, on the basis that Rubio’s “sexual tastes” were no longer a private matter. In 2010, Rubio filed a complaint for a violation of her right to privacy with the European Court of Human rights.

The Court, in its Fenruary 21 decision, held that the decision of the Spain Supreme Court violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to respect for privacy and family life. The Court found that journalists had a duty to “weigh the impact of the information” before publishing it. Certain elements of an individual’s private life should be treated delicately, and journalists must use caution before spreading rumors or commenting on these aspects. The Court dismissed Spain’s arguments that Rubio’s sexuality had been openly discussed before and was thus fair game, and that the public had an interest in information about Rubio’s private life.

The European Court of Human Rights’ decision stands in contrast to legal understandings of privacy in the United States. The Supreme Court has long held – as it decided in New York Times v. Sullivan – that “public figures” are entitled to more limited protections of privacy in the press than ordinary citizens.

N.Y. Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S. Ct. 710 (1964)

Gardner, Eriq, European Court Rules Journalists Must Be Cautions Reporting on Sexuality of Celebrities, The Hollywood Reporter (Feb. 21, 2017)

Cantor-Navas, Judy, Paulina Rubio Wins Case Against Spanish TV Gossip in EU Court, Billboard (Feb. 21, 2017)

Press Release issued by European Court of Human Rights, Article 8 of the Convention Protects Certain Events of Private and Family Life, Obliging Journalists to Show Prudence and Precaution in Reporting Them,  ECHR 067 (2017)