LOS ANGELES — The case of the unauthorized backyard photographs of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor has been solved. And the legal outcome, unveiled on Thursday by his parents, Prince Harry and Meghan, has left one of Hollywood’s biggest paparazzi agencies with its tail between its legs.
In July, the couple filed an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit over photographs taken with a drone and zoom cameras of the 14-month-old Archie as he played with his maternal grandmother in their backyard. At the time, the family was staying at a secluded estate in Beverly Hills owned by the entertainment mogul Tyler Perry. They did not name the defendants in the lawsuit because they did not know who they were.
The filing allowed their lawyer, Michael J. Kump, to send fact-finding subpoenas to the three biggest celebrity news agencies in Los Angeles: Backgrid, Splash News and X17.
The culprit turned out to be X17, which, according to a settlement agreement filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, has agreed to turn over the photos to the family; destroy any copies in its archives or databases; and never again traffic in any photos of the couple or their son taken by similar means “in any private residence or the surrounding private grounds.” In paperwork filed with the court, François Navarre, who owns X17 with his wife, Brandy, also agreed to apologize and pay the family’s legal fees.
In blunt terms, Harry and Meghan, who have clashed repeatedly with the British news media over privacy concerns, sent a stark message to American paparazzi agencies with the case: You come after us, and we will come after you.
“We apologize to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their son for the distress we have caused,” X17 said in a statement. “We were wrong to offer these photographs and commit to not doing so again.”
Mr. Kump said in a statement, “All families have a right, protected by law, to feel safe and secure at home.”
The couple, who resettled in California earlier this year after a dramatic decampment from the House of Windsor, sued under a so-called paparazzi law, by which a person can be held liable civilly for intruding airspace to take photographs of a person on private property. The law was enacted in 1998 and last updated in 2015. It also covers wild driving by celebrity photographers while stalking their subjects — the kind of behavior that bedeviled Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, who died in 1997 after her sedan crashed while trying to escape paparazzi on motorcycles.
Harry and Meghan — beloved by millions of fans, who see them as daring and modern, and vilified by an equally vehement faction, which sees their tradition-spurning actions as unbecoming — have taken an unusually hard-line approach with the tabloid news media. In April, complaining of “an economy of click bait and distortion” and coverage that was “distorted, false and invasive beyond reason,” they told four leading British tabloid publishers that they would no longer deal with them. Meghan has sued the publisher of The Mail on Sunday, the sister paper of The Daily Mail, for publishing a private letter that she had sent to her estranged father in 2018. Another lawsuit, aimed at Splash News, involves photographs that were taken of Meghan and Archie in Vancouver earlier this year.
In the X17 case, Harry and Meghan discovered that someone was shopping photos of their son to outlets around the world and had claimed they had been taken in public, according to the complaint, which noted that Archie had not been in public since the family arrived in Southern California. The photographs were published in the German magazine Bunte. Lawyers for the couple were able to move quickly enough to prevent their publication in the United States and Britain, however.
“Some paparazzi and media outlets have flown drones a mere 20 feet above the house, as often as three times a day, to obtain photographs of the couple and their young son in their private residence (some of which have been sold and published),” the lawsuit said. “Others have flown helicopters above the backyard of the residence, as early as 5:30 a.m. and as late as 7:00 p.m., waking neighbors and their son, day after day. And still others have even cut holes in the security fence itself to peer through it.”
X17 describes itself on its website as “Hollywood’s leading celebrity photo agency, servicing tens of thousands of media outlets around the world with our high quality photos and videos.” Variety magazine has characterized the operation as “a veritable spider web of photographers and undercover informants.” In 2003, Mr. Navarre had to pay Jennifer Aniston $550,000 to settle an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit over photos of her sunbathing topless in her backyard.
“Yeah, sure, it’s always a question of private life versus public life,” Mr. Navarre told The Los Angeles Times in 2007. “But you have an easy way to escape that. Get out of Los Angeles."
In August, Harry and Meghan did just that, moving from Tyler Perry’s home in Beverly Hills to one in Montecito, an oceanside enclave located about an hour north of Malibu. The couple purchased the seven-acre estate for $14.7 million. It is gated and shrouded by trees.
The paparazzi helicopters have followed.
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