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.


Guy said...

There is no UK Charity Commission. There is a Charity Commission for England and Wales. There is also a separate one for Scotland and, presumably, Northern Ireland.

Anonymous said...

The charity 'Raising Malawi' (PR firm) founded by Madonna AND TWO OTHERS in '06' held fund raisers for over two years before finally getting registered as a non-profit. In other words, Madonna and the others were free to squander that funding any way they saw fit for those first two years. In fact, they still havn't accounted for the 3.7 million raised from a single event in the fall of '07' (The grand opening of a Gucci flagship store in Manhattan.). She also pleaded with her fans worldwide for donations along the way. In the meantime, she toured the world to promote her latest CD and raked in another $280,000,000 gross in just over 12 months. To date, the basic financial info for 'Raising Malawi' still hasn't been posted on the website or anywhere else. The 'progress' page only tells of the collective works by over 20 seperate charities. Each of which have their own sources of funding and may have recieved some sort of promotion or support from 'Raising Malawi' in order to be considered 'partners'. But no indication is made how much of their funding came from 'Raising Malawi' or how much of their progress if any could be directly attributed to 'Raising Malawi'. The fans/donors have no clue how many millions of dollars were raised in that first two years, no clue how much Madonna herself chipped in, and no clue how the money was spent before they finally registered as a non-profit. No clue what fraction of funding or works listed on that 'progress' page could be directly attributed to 'Raising Malawi'. Nothing to go on but the vague and misleading word of Madonna. For example: She states in her latest promotional video that she will match any contributions made to her charity (PR firm) "dollar for dollar". However, there is a disclaimer posted on the website for 'Raising Malawi' that Madonna's total contribution will not exceed $100,000. Thats not per donation. Thats a maximum of $100,000 TOTAL. Less than a single days pay for Madonna. Also much less then she will surely rake in by promoting her own CDs, DVDs, and 'for profit' merchandise through this massive worldwide publicity stunt. So I called the office of 'Raising Malawi' in an attempt to verify some sort of efficient financial operation (310) 867-2881 or (888) 72-DONOR). These details are ALWAYS made available by legitimate charities. But not in this case. I got nothing but recorded messages and hangups. So I did some research on my own. 'Raising Malawi' still hasn't been given any kind of rating by ANY independent charity watchdog like The vast overwhelming majority of 'celebrity' foundations never are. In general, they are inneficient and riddled with corruption. Like the promotion of CDs, world tours, commercial websites, entire lines of jewelry (not just the single piece from which proceeds are donated), and high end retail flagship stores. Its far less expensive to promote your image and product with a contribution to your own charity (PR firm) than it is to buy commercial airtime worldwide. This is why its become such a trend. Celebrity foundations are also notorious for squandering much of their funding on private jet rides and super high end accomodations for their managers, PR crews, and celebrity figure heads. Its legal even for a nonprofit but not noble or efficient by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, non-profits are not actually required by law to be efficient. This is why the independent rating is so important. In general, 'celebrity' foundations never even get one. They are a twisted inefficient mutant of charity, self-promotion, exotic travel, and PR crap. Still, they compete for funding with more efficient legitimate charities. The celebrity figure heads often disregard the primary donors, co-founders, and managers, take personal credit for any collective work done, and seek maximum publicity shortly before or after the release of their own commercial projects. Its a sham. So if its not rated, then don't support it. Instead, support a top rated charity like any of those given high ratings at