Editor’s Note: This blog is not bound by the injunction in England and Wales.
UPDATE: On April 18, Court of Appeal judges ruled that the injunction will be lifted on Wednesday, April 20 pending an appeal by Elton John and David Furnish.
Pop Goes The News — Elton John and his Canadian husband David Furnish are evidently hoping to scrub the World Wide Web of reports about their open marriage.
Reps for the couple this week are busily filing complaints and threatening legal action against websites that have published articles based on a National Enquirer story headlined: “Elton John Betrayed by Cheating Husband!”
Last month, John, 69, and Furnish, 53, obtained an injunction banning media outlets in England and Wales from identifying those involved in the tale of alleged unprotected sex and a threesome involving olive oil.
(Lawyers for the couple have denied Furnish had unprotected sex with Daniel Laurence and have said the singer was aware of Furnish’s relationship with Laurence.)
In court documents, John and Furnish are identified as YMA and PJS. Lord Justice Jackson and Lady Justice King noted the couple insisted that “occasional sexual encounters with others do not detract” from their “committed” relationship.
The couple said the story would be “devastating” to Furnish. The judges added that the privacy of the men’s two sons was “a relevant factor.”
Since the injunction carries no legal weight outside England and Wales, several newspapers and websites around the world have reported the story and identified the men involved. They have also been named in hundreds of social media posts.
The National Enquirer, based in the U.S., published its report last week in its print edition and posted a short teaser on its website.
The Enquirer‘s sister magazine, Star, also published a story with the headline “Elton’s Cheating Husband!”
The Sunday Mail in Scotland — which is not bound by the court injunction — also published the story in print but did not post it online. In a message to readers, the Mail explained it identified John and Furnish “because there is no legal reason not to publish in Scotland what has been banned in England and Wales.”
The newspaper added: “It is not about the stories they are trying to stop but the absurdity of trying to prevent a free press identifying them when the whole world already knows who they are.
“Their big secret is no secret at all. America knows. The internet knows. The whole world knows. So now Scotland knows. And so we should.”
Attempts to stifle a story that would have likely been largely ignored by mainstream media have resulted in global headlines. Among the dozens of outlets covering the tale (and identifying the couple) are Sweden’s Aftenbladet and Spain’s El Mundo and La Tribuna.
UK blog Media Guido, which identified the couple in a story posted on Monday, said it has received a legal threat from London film Carter Ruck on behalf of John and Furnish. But, editor Paul Staines said his site’s servers are in the U.S. and the story was written in Ireland.
“There are no physical assets in the UK, there is no digital equivalent of a printing press, no device that can be seized or smashed,” he wrote. “Web users point their browsers at a server in the US and fetch the data back, we do not store published content in the UK.”
Staines vowed to fight attempts to force the removal of the content from his website.
“Courts in both California and New York have ruled that foreign court judgments involving free speech can be enforced in the United States only if the foreign nation recognises absolute free speech values compatible with the First Amendment,” he wrote, “which guarantees that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
There are reports the famous couple has also asked Google to remove dozens of search results.
In Canada, both the National Post and the Toronto Star have identified the couple in articles posted online Monday. Toronto Life‘s Twelve Thirty Six e-newsletter also included details of the story this week.
The Toronto Star reported that it received a letter from a lawyer representing the couple demanding that the article be removed from its website or blocked from readers in England and Wales.
“The Star’s policy on ‘unpublishing’ decrees that we do not take down published articles except in rare circumstances, which no one here believes are applicable in this matter,” wrote public editor Kathy English. “Our website does not have any ‘geoblocking’ function.”
English opined: “That any celebrity with deep pockets would turn to the courts these days to try to keep information from the public seems ludicrous.”
The Star‘s sister paper, the Hamilton Spectator, deleted a post headlined: “Olive oil and a kiddie pool: Romp involving Elton John’s husband David Furnish has tabloids in a tizzy.”
John and Furnish have evidently hired Web Sheriff, a UK-based company that promises to “protect your internet presence & intellectual property,” to attempt to remove the sex tale from the Web.
Pop Goes The News published a story about the Enquirer report last Friday. The content on this site is hosted on servers in the U.S.
Late Monday, Web Sheriff filed a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint against the ISP and host of Pop Goes The News. (The DMCA is intended to protect individuals and companies from copyright infringement so, under the rules of the DMCA, Web Sheriff can be held liable for costs and damages.)
UK media have filed papers with the Court of Appeal in hopes of overturning the publication ban. A hearing is scheduled for April 15 (see update at the top of this article).
On Monday, the Sun told readers the injunction “is an affront to freedom of expression” and asked readers to contact their MPs and “help end this farcical situation.”
The Daily Mail, which called the law allowing the ban “draconian,” said the story was “now descending into farce” because of social media.
British politician Philip Davies called the injunction “an absolute farce” and “a mockery” — and said judges need to “get real with the modern world.”
He added: “I don’t think celebrities who use the media to secure positive media coverage when it suits them should be able to use the law of the land to prevent coverage they do not like.”
The Enquirer, meanwhile, followed-up with another article in its issue dated April 25.
At Observer.com, which identified the couple, Robert Garson wrote about “one of the most nonsensical lawsuits ever to be brought, given the fluidity and ease with which information can be shared on the internet and social media, around the world.”
He added: “A core failure to understand the profusion and speed of news dissemination in the digital age makes any injunctive victory pyrrhic and the process a monumentally profligate waste of time and judicial reasoning.”
Mark Wilson of BetaNews opined it is “crazy to think” that John and Furnish believed the story could be completely shut down by an injunction.
“If anything it has served only to drag things on for longer than might otherwise have been the case,” he wrote.
“Left to run its natural course, the story probably would have burned out and been forgotten in a matter of days. As it is, it has been dragged out for weeks, and it has been brought to global attention.”
This post has been updated since it was first published.