BBC v HarperCollins Publishers Limited
Reference:  EWHC 2424 (Ch)
Court: Chancery Division
Judge: Morgan J
Date of judgment: 4 Oct 2010
Summary: Interim injunction – Confidential information - Human Rights Act 1998, s.12(3) – Likelihood of establishing at trial that publication should not be allowed – Public domain
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Jonathan Barnes (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: BBC Litigation Department for the Claimant/Applicant; Davenport Lyons for Harpercollins; Clarke Willmott LLP for the other Defendants/Respondents
The publisher Harpercollins intended to publish the autobiography of the driver who performed the role of The Stig on the BBC’s Top Gear television programme from 2003 until the summer of 2010. It had been an important characteristic of The Stig that the identity of the person taking that role is not known to the public. The BBC sought an interim injunction to prevent the publication of the book on the basis that the driver owed it duties not to disclose confidential information, including that he was The Stig. It joined the driver, his service company and Harpercollins to the proceedings.
Whether an injunction would be granted
The driver owed a duty of confidentiality, since he understood when he took on the role that The Stig was meant to be anonymous and that the identity of The Stig was confidential to himself and the BBC. However, press coverage concerning the identity of The Stig had, in particular in August 2010, gone well beyond speculation. Statements in the press that the named driver was The Stig would have been understood by the public as statements of fact. For all practical purposes, anyone who had an interest in knowing the identity of The Stig knew it. At the lowest, it is likely that the court at the trial of this action would reach the conclusion that by 29th August 2010 at the latest the fact that the driver was The Stig was so generally accessible that that information had lost its confidential character. No injunction would be granted.
The book in question has now been published. Since the BBC was unable to restrain the publication by an interim injunction, it will be left to its financial remedies (if any) of damages or an account of profits.