Who's Suing Whom: Face-off over Fayed's mansion

THE PUBLISHERS of Architectural Digest are suing OK! magazine over two photographs of the late Dodi Fayed's Malibu mansion which the former claims were printed without attribution or royalty payments.

OK! magazine is published by Northern & Shell, a London-based company chaired by Richard Desmond, which also publishes titles such as Penthouse and Asian Babes.

The photographs concerned were taken in January 1994 by Mary E Nichols, a photographer based in New York. The photos were of a Tuscan-style villa in Malibu, California, which was bought by Dodi Fayed three years later.

Advance Magazine Publishers (AMP), which owns Architectural Digest, bought a half share in the copyright of the photographs last July, and printed them in its magazine the same month. The company had sent pre- publicity copies of the magazine to newspapers the previous month. They allowed The Times to print two of the photos, which were attributed to the American publication.

AMP claims that representatives of OK! magazine started phoning Architectural Digest asking for copies of the photos and for permission to publish them. The magazine refused. OK! then claimed that Mohamed Al Fayed, Dodi Fayed's father, had granted them permission. The magazine replied that Mr Fayed did not own the copyright to the photos.

The magazine, according to AMP, was subsequently phoned "by one Lori or Leslie who claimed to represent Mohammed Fayed". The magazine repeated that Mr Fayed did not own the copyright.

On 30 July 1998 OK! published some of the photos. Last week AMP and Mary E Nichols started legal action against Northern & Shell alleging that it had infringed their copyright, and demanding damages and costs.

Northern & Shell's solicitors Davenport Lyons said last week that the company would fight the case.

ONE OF Lincoln's Inn's oldest law firms is championing a "Nimby's Charter" for owner/ occupiers of homes on pre-war suburban estates who want to stop developers from building over their gardens and neighbouring land.

Dawson & Co, a firm of solicitors founded in 1729, has beaten four "large, well-known developers" who wanted to build schemes on "brownfield" sites around the fringes of London over the past couple of years.

It has done so by using a comparatively simple and inexpensive legal weapon - the restrictive covenant.

Joanna Keddie, a partner with Dawson & Co, explains that the technique works particularly well for people who live on suburban estates built in the 1920s and 1930s, where a large number of houses were all sold with similar conditions and where all have identical restrictive covenants in their title deeds.

If these covenants restrict further building within the vicinity, as they almost always do, says Ms Keddie, then a developer can be stopped even before the planning permission stage.

Dawson & Co have stopped housing schemes in Ealing, Chesham Bois and Cheam on behalf of existing residents in the past two years by getting a declaration from the High Court that the residents' covenants forbid further building.

Once such a ruling is issued, not only is the proposed scheme stopped, but any alternative scheme in the future is also blocked, says Ms Keddie. It prevents big property developers "riding roughshod" over local residents.

One of the important parts of the process consists of "bringing in" as many residents on an estate as possible when they apply for a court declaration against a scheme.

Last week Dawson & Co issued a writ on behalf of 46 residents of Chelmerton Avenue in Chelmsford, Essex, in an attempt to include ten other residents on the Avenue in the declaration process.

REUTERS, the business information giant, is suing Freshfields, its long- time legal adviser, claiming that the City law firm caused it to significantly overpay for a company it bought five years ago.

In 1993 Freshfields carried out a due diligence investigation on behalf of Reuters into VAMP Health, an on-line health information company that Reuters subsequently bought for pounds 13m.

Now Reuters is accusing Freshfields of "breach of duty". It claims the law firm failed to alert it over a contract between VAMP and a third party which has ended up costing VAMP more than pounds 1.6m. This almost swallowed up VAMP's entire profits for 1993, of pounds 1.7m.

The acquisition of VAMP, a small British company specialising in computer services to doctors, marked Reuters' debut in healthcare and was supposed to spearhead the group's ambitious drive into IT systems for the medical industry.

Reuters claims that an agreement between VAMP and Intelligent Computer Services (ICS), which gave VAMP exclusive rights to sell ICS' "TALK" computer software in the UK, meant VAMP was worth far less than the due diligence report suggested.

VAMP had agreed to pay ICS certain sums if it failed to reach certain sales targets for TALK.

In the event, sales of TALK were disappointing and in 1996 ICS launched legal proceedings against VAMP, claiming pounds 1,601,966 under the terms of the agreement.

Reuters now claims that if Freshfields had told it of the ICS deal: "Reuters, having regard to the risks associated ... would have refused to pay the price which it did in order to acquire the shares in VAMP and would only have purchased such shares (if it purchased them at all) on terms which fully reflected such risks."

A spokeswoman for Freshfields said last week: "Yes, we have received the writ, and yes, we are defending the action." Freshfields is using another City law firm, Lovell White Durrant, to fight its case.

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