While police in the United Kingdom are beginning to crackdown on people who photograph the royal family in public, California will begin to enforce a new law that protects American royalty – Hollywood celebrities.
The new bill was signed last year by Hollywood celebrity, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and went into effect January 1st. It seeks to protect the privacy of celebrities against paparazzi photographers who stalk them as well as the celebrity magazines that purchase these photos. Violators can be punished by fines of up to $50,000.
However, the law is open to interpretation and has the potential to be used against all photographers and news organizations in all journalist endeavors, turning it into a serious First Amendment infringement.
It also gives celebrities a special protective status over their privacy in an age when most of us are losing our rights to privacy, whether it be through Google Earth, airport body search cameras or company background checks.
The new law is an amendment to Section 1708.8, an existing law that makes it illegal to trespass on a celebrity’s property for a photo in what is described as a “physical invasion of privacy,” a law that is already redundant with existing trespassing and anti-stalking laws (the ones that protect the rest of us peasants).
Under Assembly Bill 524, it is now considered a “constructive invasion of privacy” to photograph a celebrity who is “engaging in a personal or familial activity,” even if that photographer is not physically trespassing on their property.
For example, a photographer who uses a telephoto lens from a public street into the celebrity’s front yard.
The law continually uses the phrase “offensive to a reasonable person” to gauge whether or not the photographer is guilty of a crime or not.
Considering that celebrity magazines are prospering at a time when legitimate news magazines are dying, it is obvious these types of photos are not that offensive to the average American, making it questionable as to who exactly is a reasonable person.
After all, if there weren’t such a demand for these photos, then there really wouldn’t be a need for this law.
Here is an excerpt from the new law:
The right to privacy and respect for private lives of individuals and their families must be balanced against the right of the media to gather and report the news. The right of a free press to report details of an individual’s private life must be weighed against the rights of the individual to enjoy liberty and privacy.
The problem with the new law is that it doesn’t acknowledge that celebrities depend on the coverage they receive from celebrity photographers and magazines. In some cases, celebrities even go out of their way to attract attention from these photographers, as Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton stated last year when he opposed the new legislation.
If it were up to me, I would boycott photographing these celebrities altogether until they start running in the street naked desperate for the attention they seek. And then maybe I’ll pull out my camera.