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Hurstville man sues media for ‘ridiculing’ his mullet hairstyle after picture goes viral

A Sydney teenager is suing several media outlets including the Daily Mail, Sydney’s Daily Telephone and the Australian Radio Network after his ‘striking mullet haircut’ became an internet sensation.

The Sydney man was photographed at an 18th birthday party by a photographer, Jeremy Nool and was subsequently made into memes featuring animals and famous landmarks.

The teenager’s defamation proceedings claim he became the subject of ridicule following the publication of the photograph and in particular, claim damages for the following imputations:-

  1. The articles suggest he is a ridiculous person;
  2. The articles suggest he was ‘hideously ugly’; and
  3. The articles suggest that he had permitted himself ‘to be photographed with a mullet hairstyle’  and had accordingly ‘exposed himself to ridicule’.

The matter was set for a hearing in November 2016 but during a preliminary court mention, District Court Judge Gibson commented that ‘the articles were of a humorous nature and did not imply that the teenager was ugly’.  She also found that ‘saying a hairstyle is ridiculous is not the same as saying the plaintiff is ugly’.

However, the court determined that the plaintiff is entitled to plead an imputation of condition (namely being a ridiculous person for having such a hairstyle) as well as an imputation amount to an act.  This imputation is reasonably capable of being conveyed and so the matter will proceed to a jury trial.

So what are your rights when being photographed in public?

In Australia, most forms of “unauthorised” photography have in fact been permitted since a 1937 High Court decision in which the Court found that “A person, in our society, does not have right not to be photographed”.  As such, there is no tort of invasion of privacy in Australia.

A legacy of our convict past is that Australia has never had a Bill of Rights.  Consequently there has never been any concept of a constitutionally protected “Right to Privacy“.  Because of this, Australian statutes and common law have always rejected attempts to prohibit photography by merely claiming breach of privacy.

Nevertheless, unauthorised photography is still subject to defamation legislation and anti-voyeurism and obscenity offences contained in the New South Wales Crimes Act, 1900.

If you have a possible defamation claim, contact Peter Moore on (02) 4324 7699 for a free, no obligation chat about your rights.

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