FEAR of a public backlash, and not the threat of legal action, will likely be the crucial issue in whether women's magazines in Australia publish photographs of a topless Princess Kate, according to experts.
The royal family has condemned the publication in a French magazine and an Irish tabloid of photos of the Duchess of Cambridge wearing only bikini briefs while she and her husband, Prince William, were on holiday in France last month, and there could yet be repercussions for both media outlets.
The royal couple is suing French magazine Closer under France's privacy laws, which could mean a 12-year jail term for the editor. The British company that owns the Irish Daily Star, which at the weekend published reproductions of the photos Closer used, was so dismayed by its newspaper's decision it is considering closing the publication.
The Australian Women's Weekly has ruled out publishing the photos, but its rivals have not been so vocal.
Australian media outlets cannot be sued for an invasion of privacy, and so experts believe any decision to publish the photos here would be juggled with how readers would respond.
Matthew Ricketson, the Professor of Journalism at the University of Canberra, was unsure if any Australian magazines would use the photographs, but said the public-relations response would likely hold sway over any legal issues.
"If someone wanted to publish the photos of Princess Kate they could in Australia, they wouldn't be breaking the law because there is not a law against invading someone's privacy ... it's more whether an editor or news director will do that," he said.
Publicist Max Markson doubted whether Australian magazines would use the photos, which he estimated would cost publications about $200,000.
"The Australian magazines would often do stories with the approval of the palace and I don't think they'd want to jeopardise their relationship long-term with a short-term gain no matter how sensational these photos are," Mr Markson said.
"There would also be a public backlash. I'm sure they would have been offered them last week but would have said no to them."
The British media, wary about ethics following revelations from the phone hacking scandal, has largely respected palace guidelines stressing Kate and William should not be photographed when not in public. They have also condemned the latest actions of their overseas counterparts, although The Sun published nude photos of Prince Harry taken at a Las Vegas party last month.
The editors of Australian magazines could not be contacted yesterday, but The Australian Women's Weekly said in an online report it had been inundated by calls from readers that the royal couple should be left alone when in private.
"We did not run Harry's nude pictures, and will not be publishing any topless images of Kate, or any others taken in private situations," the magazine said.
Italian gossip magazine Chi has said it planned to publish a 26-page spread today, and editor Alfonso Signorini said at the weekend he did not fear legal action as the photos were already in the public domain following Closer's publication. He said the photos were respectful to the royal couple.
"It shows in its total naturalness the daily life of a young, famous, modern couple in love," he said.