Will and Kate visit could test California's new paparazzi laws

With Will and Kate visiting Los Angeles this weekend, the paparazzi will be clamoring for a signature photo. But local law enforcement officials have an array of laws to rein them in.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge wave to photographers as they leave the Beverly Hilton Hotel after attending a meeting with a group of venture capitalists, business leaders, and philanthropists in Los Angeles.

Three California laws designed to curb the excesses of the paparazzi are set to receive their sternest test yet with the arrival in Los Angeles of William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The laws were spurred by the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car accident while being trailed by paparazzi in Paris, as well as local incidents such as actress Jennifer Aniston being photographed topless in her own backyard and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and family being surrounded in his Hummer by photographers so that he couldn't drive away.

Veteran celebrity photographers say that law-enforcement officials have no idea how hard their job will be. But “the police are revved up to the challenge of testing these new laws,” says Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern School of Law. “They are going to be shadowing paparazzi activities more than ever.”

The laws:

• Protect celebrities against trespass or the use of audio- or video-enhancing equipment that violates a reasonable expectation of privacy and make it easier for celebrities to sue for invasion of privacy.

• Increase the penalties for paparazzi who cause altercations in their attempt to photograph celebrities, and prohibit paparazzi from profiting from such images.

• Penalize paparazzi who drive recklessly to get a photo with as much as six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

For Will and Kate, neighborhood streets surrounding the home of the British consul-general in Hancock Park – where they are staying – will be cordoned off with barriers and signs reading, “No Trespassing.”

This is one big reason celebrity photographer Giles Harrison will be attending barbecues for three days, rather than try to shoot the royal couple.

“I’m avoiding this visit like the plague,” says Mr. Harrison, who founded London Entertainment Group, which regularly covers the Golden Globes, Grammys, and other major events. “It’s a waste of time. I have no desire for these paparazzi laws to be tested on me.”

Harrison says it’s possible for photographers to make “a few grand” from photos of the royal couple because demand is so great. But he says most of the current visit will be so controlled by police that “paparazzi trying to get a good shot will be facing a nightmare.”

But law enforcement will have its work cut out for it. “Presidential visits are hard enough, but these people are universally adored so the public crowds will be much bigger and more eager,” he says.

Perhaps adding to the paparazzi's desperation is the fact that the royals' only open event doesn't present many opportunities for photos that bring big bucks.

The polo match that William will take part in Saturday in Santa Barbara includes 200 accredited photographers, not to mention the “royal photographers who photograph their every move,” says Harrison. Add to that the growing phenomenon of everyone with a cell phone using it as a camera, and chances dwindle for a really unique photo that no one else has.

The question of whether some of the laws can withstand legal scrutiny remains uncertain. But the aggressive driving law, at least, would appear to be on firm ground because it does not touch upon freedom of the press, says Professor Pugsley.

“Driving is about conduct, not speech, and therefore is not protected by freedom-of-the-press laws,” says Pugsley. “The public – both drivers and pedestrians – need to be protected from the overly aggressive tactics of paparazzi who are driving.”

Barry Mozian, President of Talon Executive Services, an Orange County firm that provides security for corporate executives and celebrities, agrees.

“This should not be considered photojournalism in any sense of the word,” says Mr. Mozian. Fan magazines and supermarket tabloids are in a different category, he says, than legitimate media or publishing houses who publish high-quality collections of photographs.

“These are not war correspondents risking their lives to get a shot that says something about a plight or a political issue,” he says. “The fact that these people get away with what they do, notwithstanding the new legislation that is tightening the noose, often puts the public in jeopardy, not to mention the people they are photographing.”

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