Schwarzenegger signs bill to crack down on paparazzi

The law will toughen existing regulations on paparazzi, but it could be challenged in court on First Amendment grounds.

Chris Carlson/AP/File
"30 Rock" star Alec Baldwin holds his award for best actor in a comedy series backstage at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 20, in Los Angeles.

The Terminator wants to terminate paparazzi. Mr. Freeze wants to put invasive photographers on ice. Choose your Hollywood film reference, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new law Sunday that will fine paparazzi for taking photos that invade a celebrity’s right to privacy.

The new law is intended to stop the kind of regular altercations that make it onto the TV entertainment magazine tabloid shows all the time: Britney Spears taking an umbrella to a photographer’s SUV, Alec Baldwin threatening fisticuffs with a cameraman, and the most famous of all – the death of Britain’s Princess Diana who was fleeing aggressive photographers on the streets of Paris.

The new law is in fact an amendment to a 1998 law passed in response to Princess Diana’s death. The new amendment raises the penalties when a person commits a trespass “in order to physically invade the privacy" of a celebrity in order to film or record them.

Under the new law, paparazzi will face fines up to $50,000 if they click celebrities in a personal or familial activity. And the law targets media outlets who purchase the illegal photos.

The new law also adds assault into the equation. If the photo shooter assaults someone while attempting to photograph, then the victim can obtain three times the damages from the assault.

The new law comes as Los Angeles officials try to halt the activity of aggressive photographers following altercations involving stars Reese Witherspoon, Lindsay Lohan, and Scarlett Johansson, and others. Ms. Lohan and Ms. Johansson both were involved in high profile car accidents they claim were caused by the pursuit of aggressive photographers.

Some media groups have claimed the law violates the First Amendment.

“We wish the governor would have vetoed it, but it’s not like we’re surprised,” said Tom Newton a spokesman for the California Newspaper Association to Reuters.

Some legal experts agree that it raises First Amendment issues and could chill the gathering of information.

The law could also make it more difficult to gather “news,” says Jessica Levinson, adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School. “If photographers are prohibited from documenting events, the public may have to depend on less reliable forms of reporting, like eyewitness accounts.”

She and others also say the law raises many practical concerns, for instance, when is a celebrity involved in a “personal or family” activity?

“The law could chill certain activities by preventing photographers who are not sure about how to categorize a celebrity’s activity from taking pictures,” says Professor Levinson. “For many of us, the line between what constitutes a personal or familial activity and a professional activity can be very blurry. What about a lunch with a good friend who happens to be a business partner? “

Similarly, the law prohibits the taking of images “in a manner that is offensive to a reasonable person.”

“Reasonable person standards can be difficult to administer,” says Levinson. “What offends me may be wildly different than what offends my friends, co-workers or family members.”

She says the major change in this law is creating a private right of action against media outlets who publish illegally obtained images. “Media outlets will no longer be shielded from suits based images obtained in violation of the law,” she says.


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