SINCE I live in happy, and almost total, ignorance of anything to do with the worlds of football and reality television, the names of those involved in the big story in yesterday's Sunday Herald didn't matter much to me.

But they certainly weren’t news to me, either; which, perversely, is what made the article news.

While I cannot remember the names of any of those involved in numerous similar stories which have appeared for decades in the tabloid press, I’ve had the identity of these people shoved at me ad nauseam. And what made it impossible to escape knowing about this story, and several others, was the existence of injunctions issued by the English courts. The legal proceedings preventing newspapers and broadcasters from reporting the details south of the Border have had the paradoxical effect of guaranteeing that they were the talk of the steamie, or at least of its modern incarnation, Twitter.

If you had wanted to maximise publicity, you couldn’t have done better. As a result, by the time yesterday’s newspaper appeared, I was fed up to the back teeth hearing about it, since it has been one of the most discussed topics online.

I’m not going to name anyone in this column, either explicitly or by implication (so English lawyers need not waste their time looking for sly references or feeble jokes) because it is issues of principle, rather than individuals and their reputations, which are at stake.

But if I’m not interested in the individuals – of whom, as I say, I’d mostly never heard – I am interested in the public interest. That, of course, is not necessarily coincident with something which the public happens to be interested in, though a basic fact of human psychology, which those taking out injunctions seem to have ignored, is that making something secret is the fastest way to ensure people will be nosy about it.

This difficulty is compounded by the fact that, for good or ill, there is now a right to privacy in both Scottish and English law, thanks to the incorporation of the European Human Rights Act. It is problematic not because judges invented it, as politicians often try to imply, but because it was introduced by Parliament in very vaguely defined terms, which judges must now interpret.

The law, of course, also enshrines the right to free speech. As is so often the case with rights-based law, these two rights are often in conflict. What is undoubtedly in the public interest is the reasoning behind judgments about which prevails in any given case; the very thing which so-called “super-injunctions” prevent.

The reason that rights are an unsatisfactory basis for law is not only that different rights often conflict with one another, but that they are by definition an aspiration for a state of affairs which would exist in an ideal world. But in practical terms we expect the law to act as a mechanism to protect us from harm, to settle disputes, to attribute blame, and to provide a remedy for harm we have suffered.

The truth is that in any potential clash between the right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech, privacy has practically no chance, and the law will have to change if it is to have any force. The public domain is now truly public, and it is absurd to expect that newspapers and broadcasters should be prevented from reporting what is already very widely known, instantly available and, all too often, well-nigh unavoidable.

To attempt to sue Twitter, a company with no computer servers or offices based in the UK (and one, moreover, based in a country which gives freedom of speech primacy in its own legislation), is akin to trying to sue a telephone company for gossip being bandied about by its customers. Less realistic, actually, since Twitter has no way of knowing who its users are, if they have, for example, created anonymous accounts in internet cafés.

The problem is not unlike another one facing the media and the law, which is that of copyright. The things which computers are particularly useful for, and certainly the thing for which they are now most often used, is the copying and dissemination of information. To regard copyright, or privacy, as a fundamental human right is a waste of time in the face of that reality. We should instead be looking at what the legal mechanisms to enforce them are designed to do.

In the case of copyright, it is to protect the interests of those who create content, whether that be newspaper articles, music, photographs or any other piece of intellectual property. That involves recognising their authorship, giving control over how it can be used, and ensuring that they gain from any commercial exploitation of their work. The current model clearly does not work, but no agreement has yet been reached on what might replace it. If you can come up with one, the media industry will make you very rich indeed.

Privacy, an even more nebulous concept, is probably now impossible to sustain. The truth is that no human rights are truly inalienable. The right to liberty is curtailed for those who are a danger to others; the right to the pursuit of happiness does not apply to those who pursue it through narcotics; the right to bear arms does not, even in America, extend to personal nuclear weapons.

One understands the desire of public figures to argue that their private life is no-one else’s business, and to protect their families from media intrusion. But you can no more legislate against the internet curtailing that “right” than you can against people gossiping in the pub.

Reporting tittle-tattle about what public figures get up to in the bedroom may often not be in the public interest; but there may be a sound justification in any hypothetical case which involves evident hypocrisy or potential abuse of power. It cannot be right that when such information is universally and instantly available, the only bodies which are effectively prevented from even mentioning it are the very ones which might responsibly do so in the service of genuine public interest.