Sometimes we feel sorry for the paparazzi. Sure, most of them didn't go to Northwestern, intern for big newspapers or get bright-green LAPD press cards. They don't bring us news we can use. But they do capture an aspect of history, work their butts off, and face great bodily harm daily (especially when covering Kanye West or Sean Penn). It's a physical sport that would leave many of us desk jockeys breathless.
Still, the car chases, the aggressive, forearm-in-the-car-window shots, the stalking of celebs on family outings — it's too much. And the governor, once the subject of an overzealous pap ambush, this month put his signature to a law that attempts to reign in the more-aggro aspects of celebrity photography. Namely, the new rule would fine organizations that purchase photos and video obtained through illegal means — car chases are mentioned — as much as $50,000. The language pits the freedom of the press against the liberty and privacy of the subject.
It has sent a chill through some newspaper suits and media attorneys. For one, most celebrities have a limited right to privacy when they're in public, as they have voluntarily chosen careers that take them into the realm of public life (the same goes for politicians).
Even a prominent member of the Republican Party, rarely a bedfellow with ink-stained wretches of the press, is concerned that the law goes too far. “I'm concerned that it's just going to subject newspapers and other legitimate publishers to nuisance-type lawsuits,” state Sen. Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) told the Sacramento Bee.
While proponents say the law emphasizes that there is no freedom of the press when photographers are chasing stars, harassing them and trespassing on their property (Jennifer Aniston sponsored the bill after her experience when a photog scaled a wall to capture nude-sunbathing photos of her), skeptics point out that the law requires news organizations to knowingly purchase such photos when, often, there's little way of finding out the circumstances behind a freelance-sourced image or video. In other words, such content is often purchased based on face value, not on what the shooter went through to get there. The California Newspaper Publishers Association tells the Bee that the law will discourage outlets from purchasing controversial material.
Carlton Larson, UC Davis professor of law, tells the paper, “I'm positive this will wind up in court, some way or other.”