“Epic Boobs girl” loses privacy complaint

14/05/2010

A complaint that Loaded magazine intruded into a woman’s privacy, in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, by publishing a feature about her, with photographs, has been rejected by the Press Complaints Commission.

The article, headlined “Wanted! The Epic Boobs girl!”, appeared in the February 2010 edition of the magazine.

It featured a number of photographs of the woman – who was said to have the “best breasts on the block” – taken from the internet, and offered readers of the magazine a reward of £500 for assistance in encouraging her to do a photo shoot with it.

The woman said the article was intrusive. The magazine had published her name, and taken the photographs, from her Bebo site, where they were uploaded in December 2006, when she was 15 years old. They were published without permission. She could not remember whether her site had any privacy settings in place and did not know the circumstances in which the photographs were removed.

The magazine said it had not taken the photographs from the woman’s Bebo site – rather, they were widely available on the internet. At the time of her complaint, searches showed 1,760,000 matches which related to her and 203,000 image matches of her as the “Epic Boobs girl”.

The woman’s name had also been widely circulated and achieved over 100,000 Google hits, including over 8,000 photographs.

The Commission rejected the complaint, and said the case raised the important principle of the extent to which newspapers and magazines could make use of information which is already freely available online.

It had previously published decisions on the use of material on social networking sites, which had gone towards establishing a set of principles in this area.

But this complaint was different: the magazine had not taken the material from the complainant’s Bebo site, but had published a piece commenting on something which had widespread circulation online (having been taken from the Bebo page some time ago by others) and was easily accessed by Google searches.

Images of the woman had been freely available for some time, and she had been identified online as the individual in the pictures.

The Commission could understand that the woman objected strongly to the context in which they appeared online: images of her and her friends in a social context had become proclaimed as “pin-up” material, the subject of innuendo and bawdy jokes.

The commission said: “It was, of course, within this context that the magazine article operated. This was an important point: the magazine had not accessed material from a personal site and then been responsible for an especially salacious means of presenting it; instead it had published a piece discussing the fact that this material was already being widely used in this way by others.”

It did not think it was possible for it to censure the magazine for commenting on material which already had a wide circulation, and had already been contextualised in the same way by many others.

The Commission felt that the images were so widely established that it would be untenable for it to rule that it was wrong for the magazine to use them.

But the Commission made it clear that it had some sympathy with the woman.

“The fact that she was 15 years old when the images were originally taken – although she is an adult now – only added to the questionable tastefulness of the article,” it said.

But it could not rule on issues of taste and offence, or of the legality of the material, it said, adding: “The test, therefore, was whether the publication intruded into the complainant’s privacy, and the Code required the Commission to have regard to ‘the extent to which material is already in the public domain’.

“In the Commission’s view, the information, in the same form as published in the magazine, was widely available to such an extent that its republication did not raise a breach of the Code. The complaint was not upheld on that basis.”

The Commission’s adjudication was issued on 11 May 2010.