Media and Communications Law

Pop Star Noelia's Secret Wedding Photos Were Private, Federal Appeals Court Rules

In a case that the court said “reads like a telenovela, a Spanish soap opera,” a divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Spanish-language celebrity gossip magazine violated the rights of a well-known couple when it published private wedding photographs apparently stolen by the couple’s driver.

The case involves Noelia Lorenzo Monge, a Puerto Rican pop singer and model, and her husband and manager, Jorge Reynoso, who also is a music producer. While the couple married in Las Vegas in 2007, they managed to keep their nuptials secret, largely to protect Monge’s commercial image as a young, single sex symbol.

Very few images were taken on their wedding night. But when their sometimes driver and bodyguard came across the images, he sold them to Maya Magazine, which then published them in TVNotas, under a headline, “The secret wedding of Noelia and Jorge Reynoso in Las Vegas. We even have photos of their first night as a married couple!”

Maya Magazine had argued that the photos met the fair use exception because of their news value, according to the court’s opinion and a story by the Recorder.

But in writing for the majority (PDF), Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown disagreed, opining that “Waving the news-reporting flag is not a get-out-of-jail-free card in the copyright arena.”

The 2-1 opinion from the San Francisco-based court is organized like a screen credits, with “The Cast” section to identify the parties and “The Set” and “The Drama” sections to outline the factual background, with the majority ultimately reversing the lower court and concluding that “Maya’s effort to document its exposé does not automatically trump the couple’s rights in its unpublished photos.”

In his dissent, Circuit Judge Milan Smith Jr. takes issue with McKeown’s reasoning, noting that under her analysis, golfer Tiger Woods would have been able to block the media from publishing his “sexting messages” by asserting copyright. Same for former congressman Anthony Weiner, who could have barred publication of sexually suggestive Twitter photos, the Recorder reports.

Indeed, Smith concludes that, “The implications of this analysis undermine the free press and eviscerate the principles upon which copyright was founded. Although newsworthiness alone is insufficient to invoke fair use, public figures should not be able to hide behind the cloak of copyright to prevent the news media from exposing their fallacies.”

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