Thursday 15 October 2009
Madonna, The Mail on Sunday and "undisclosed sums"
Last week publicity-conscious music icon Madonna (Ciccone) was reported to have accepted substantial (if sadly undisclosed) damages for privacy and infringement of copyright over the publication by The Mail on Sunday newspaper of "purloined" photos of her December 2000 wedding to Guy Ritchie. Through her solicitor she informed the judge, Mr Justice Peter Smith, that she would be donating the damages to her Raising Malawi charity.
Unlike many other events in Madonna's life, her wedding was private. However, in 2003, an enteprising interior designer, while working on her home in Beverly Hills, surreptitiously copied at least 27 photos from her wedding album. These photos were passed on to Bonnie Robinson, who offered to sell them to the Mail on Sunday. The paper did not purchase them at that time, but waited till the predicted announcement of the couple's divorce, at which point there was huge media interest about her marriage, and bought the photos then. Ten of these photos were published just three days after the divorce announcement and without prior warning. Madonna then instituted legal proceedings against both Robinson and the paper, alleging breach of privacy and copyright infringement.
A solicitor for Associated Newspapers, which publishes The Mail on Sunday, said that it accepted that it had acted wrongly and offered its sincere apologies to Madonna and her family for invading her privacy and infringing her copyright.
While the public was probably preoccupied, as was the media, with the details of Madonna's private life and career activities, IP lawyers are more interested in things like the sort of money that infringers agree to pay over to charities in order to settle infringement claims. Is there a "going rate"? Is the scale of undisclosed payments based on the severity of the infringement or the degree of celebrity of the claimant? And is it possible for the party paying the sum to derive the benefit of Gift Aid or other tax benefit?
While statements in court only talk of undisclosed sums being so donated, it must be possible to get some useful information -- if only on an historical basis -- from the records that the charities themselves must keep. The Charity Commission in the UK is responsible for overseeing the financial activities of British charities and their reporting requirements, but those charities not registered in the UK are presumably registered and supervised elsewhere, where different record-keeping and confidentiality requirements may apply.
Do any readers have any insights into this issue? If so, can they please share them with the rest of us.