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The biographer-subject relationship just got a bit more contentious

Canadian Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt (who I must admit is one of my all-time favorites) hasn’t liked the fact that a former friend of hers, Neima Ash, self-published a biography of the singer. So much so that she spent over 200 grand to block any further publication of the unauthorized bio, even though it’s only sold about 400 copies in the entire country. Still, UK judges were sympathetic to McKennitt’s plight, granting a temporary injunction unless Ash removes 7 of 34 references under contention.

So what does this mean for future biographies?

In determining the issues, Judge Eady seems to have tilted the balance in favour of privacy. His judgment cites three prior court cases, one involving media photographs of Monaco’s Princess Caroline, that collectively “acknowledge a ‘legitimate expectation’ of protection of private life, on some occasions, in relatively public circumstances.”

And he concludes that “even where there is a genuine public interest alongside a commercial interest . . . in publishing articles or photographs, sometimes such interests would have to yield to the individual citizen’s right to the effective protection of private life.”

As a result, he writes, “if a person wishes to reveal publicly information about aspects of his or her relations with other people, which would attract the prima facie protection of privacy rights, any such revelation should be crafted, so far as possible, to protect the other person’s privacy. This is important particularly, of course, in the context of ‘kiss and tell’ stories.”

In other words, “the ruling implicitly raises questions about where the limits of freedom of speech lie in reporting about, photographing, or writing books about public figures.” Suffice to say that legal eagles will be sorting through the muck for a while to come…

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