The BBC has unsuccessfully sought an injunction against the publication of the identity of the Stig from Top Gear. The popular BBC television show Top Gear regularly features an anonymous character known as “the Stig” who appears in a white suit and a helmet with a dark visor. The injunction was sought against Ben Collins, his service company (Collins Autosport) and the publisher of Mr Collin’s autobiography which revealed Ben Collins as the Stig.
Numerous contracts containing confidentiality provisions had been entered into between the BBC and the service company. Mr Collins had signed the contracts on behalf of the service company and the court concluded that while Mr Collins was not a party to the contracts, he still owed a duty of confidentiality to the BBC until the information ceased to be confidential and was generally accessible as public knowledge.
The primary factor in refusing to grant the injunction was the fact that a large number of media publications referred to Mr Collins as the Stig which resulted in the information ceasing to have the character of confidential information as it was already in the public domain. Anyone who had an interest in knowing the identity of the Stig was already aware of it at the time the injunction was sought. The court reasoned that the damage to the BBC had already occurred when the Stig’s identity was revealed and it was not appropriate to grant an injunction preventing the publication of Mr Collins’ autobiography as the injunction would not protect the BBC from the harm which had already occurred. It was also not an appropriate use of the court’s powers to grant an injunction to punish a defendant for his previous unlawful action. However, the court noted that a financial remedy could be awarded to the BBC, and it remains to be seen whether or not the BBC will seek compensation.
This decision emphasises the importance of protecting confidential information and keeping it out of the public domain. Interestingly, it was the success of the Stig’s character which prompted the media speculation resulting in the information becoming public knowledge.
For further information please contact Leo Moore or David Cullen of our Technology & Commercial Contracts Department.