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Posted at 10:42 AM ET, 02/12/2008

The 'Britney Law' -- A Celeb's Best Friend?

By Liz Kelly

Britney Spears is photographed from above as she's carried on a stretcher to an ambulance outside her Beverly Hills in early January. (AP/KCBS-TV)

While my version of a "Britney Law" would bar singers of questionable talent from recording studios, it was only a matter of time before our favorite train wreck's name was invoked in a bid to rein in the hordes of camera-wielding paparazzi that prowl the streets of Los Angeles.

And so it is that L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine yesterday proposed his "Britney Law" -- a 20-yard "safety bubble" around celebs considered to be "paparazzi targets." The scrums eager to capture the singer's every unpredictable move are a danger to her and to innocent bystanders who aren't at all interesting or tabloid worthy, says Zine. Why is it, the politician seems to ask, should the average citizen's safety be sacrificed to keep Life & Style weekly flush with up-skirt shots?

The canny councilman is onto something. Though whether his proposal was made out of an abundance of concern for people who can afford to hire private armies of security guards or some other, less overt motive we can only guess. One thing is certain -- we're sick of Britney and strong feelings about Brit-saturation (just see Celebritology comment threads for evidence of this) may be easily repurposed into paparazzi outrage.

In other words, while I'm as disturbed as anyone to learn that Sienna Miller feels "hunted," I'm also extremely wary of being manipulated into hating the players and not the game. managing editor Harvey Levin argues that there are already rules governing the paparazzi in place. They just need to be enforced.

"The way to control it is to arrest people who break the law," said Levin yesterday in a telephone interview. "Trespassing, assault, traffic violations."

One of Levin's concerns with the proposed "Britney Law" is its notion of identifying "paparazzi targets."

"If Jason Davis (aka "Gummy Bear," a minor celeb for being a rich kid staple of the Hollywood scene) gets upset that there's a camera in his face, what do you do? Do you put [his] celebrity status on trial? And," he adds, "was there consent?"

While no one likes a pushy photog (well, except maybe Brit herself), Zine's headline-grabbing proposal could have big First Amendment implications. Whether the target is a wire service shooter or gangbangers hired to intimidate rival paps, the Britney Law's 20-yard safety bubble could be a first step on a slippery slope of limiting freedom of the press that could extend to anyone considered newsworthy.

"There is enough legislation in place to cope with renegade photographers," says Gary Morgan, CEO of celeb-snapping agency Splash News. "The majority of paparazzi are fully trained photographers covering Hollywood, which is mainstream news. AP and Reuters cover the celebrity beat now on the street and TV network helicopters buzz Britney."

One industry voice coming out in favor of strictures on the paps is celeb blogger Perez Hilton (aka Mario Lavandiera).

"I think it's a great idea," said Lavandiera in a Monday e-mail exchange. "Hopefully this new law will make it even more difficult for paparazzi to put someone's life in harm."

Where do you come down on the proposed Britney Law? Vote in the poll, then make your case in the comments section.

By Liz Kelly  | February 12, 2008; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Britney Spears, Celebrities, Celebritology 101  
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can I vote c. and d.?

Posted by: Quibbilus Maximus | February 12, 2008 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I guess pick the one about which you feel a tad stronger.

Posted by: Liz Kelly | February 12, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

There are already legal definitions of what constitutes a public figure with regard to malice laws. These could easily translate to a pap law. Freedom of the press protects the public's right to know what their government is up to. We really don't have a right to know whether Brit is wearing underwear or not (nor do we really want to know). Commercial speech is already more heavily regulated than political speech. Again, easy transfer to the pap law.

One of the news channel when discussing this law was showing paps jumping out their cars and surrounding another car to snap pics -- ON A FREEWAY ONRAMP. That is just too dangerous for words. This law could prevent someone else from getting killed when things go too far.

Red carpet events, known clubs, fine. Hang out and snap all you want. But private homes, schools, and the FREEWAY ONRAMP should be off limits. If the paps won't self-police, they have no one but themselves to blame when the government acts to stop their dangerous behavior.

Posted by: ep | February 12, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

"Freedom of the press protects the public's right to know what their government is up to. We really don't have a right to know whether Brit is wearing underwear or not "
Exactly!! Whether you think Brit and other celebs bring this on themselves they don't live in a bubble and one of these days some innocent, non-celeb is going to be hurt or killed. Isn't it interesting that the people in the article who are against the law are the ones profiting from the pictures. They should think of their profits going to a family when they win a wrongful death suit against some photog who ran them over trying to get to Lilo. Princess Diana died trying to out run the paparazzi and it's just extreme good luck that they didn't take out somebody else on that highway. Just as freedom of speech doesn't mean that you can yell 'fire' in a crowded theatre, freedom of the press doesn't mean that you can hang out of trees and create a public nuisance to get a pic of some drunk star.

Posted by: good idea | February 12, 2008 11:27 AM | Report abuse

If someone's truly doing something dangerous there's already laws in place to take care of it. I don't really like the idea of beign told that "Someone's famous, so don't take pictures of them". Yes, the celebrity press is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed, but this isn't the answer. Some kind of guild for photographers and other reporters that would be the official source for all the businesses that exist on celeb news would be a much better idea.

Posted by: EricS | February 12, 2008 11:39 AM | Report abuse

The motorcade to take Brit from her house to the funny farm cost LA $24,000, and was in fact intended to keep the papzi at a distance. So that expense is part of what's driving this guy's campaign.

I still am in favor of tear gas and Krylon sprayers.

Posted by: 23112 | February 12, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

We have been hearing from celebs for years on this topic! I can't remember who said this, but a few years ago an actress in a TV interview said something like "When I'm at work, sure, take pictures, but when I'm at home, LEAVE ME ALONE!" I have to agree. If we were the ones in this situation, would we want photogs endangering our lives on the freeway, or following us when we went to pick our kids up from school?
The photogs have gone way too far! Diana was killed in while trying to escape aggressive photogs. How many more people have to die before we do something???

Posted by: Beth | February 12, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

"The scrums eager to capture the singer's every unpredictable move are a danger to her and to innocent bystanders who aren't at all interesting or tabloid worthy, says Zine."

The use of the word "scrums" here confused me. Scrum, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means "A disordered or confused situation involving a number of people."

While such situations definately DO exist around Brit, it's the SCUMS, not the SCRUMS that take the picture...

Having got that out of my system, I agree with the point that enforcement of the rules already in existence should be given a shot before any new rules are adopted. If any celeb wanted the paps to leave them alone, they have any number of ways to make that happen - leave town, go incognito, don't go to the hot spots, etc. The serious problems appear to happen when a certain young poptart COURTS the attentions of these guys - why should they resist the lowhanging fruit?

Posted by: sunydaze | February 12, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

HA! And I can't even spell my own name!

Posted by: sunnydaze | February 12, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Kinda funny that the guy's name is "Zine."

Posted by: Pompous Magnus | February 12, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I agree with sunnydaze (or sunydaze), lets start to enforce the current laws before we rush to make new ones a la ( and I hate to add politics into here) the Constitutionally questionable Patriot Act.

Maybe the editors and paps can agree to self-regulate or issue a "celebrity bill of rights" like the airlines are doing with passengers. Some sort of mutual understanding of when a celebrity is being a celebrity in a professional sense and when they are being a private citizen.

It would be nice to see some restraint in the pap industry, as long as there is demand, there will be paps who will do anything to cash in on it.

Posted by: michael | February 12, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"Yes, the celebrity press is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed, but this isn't the answer. Some kind of guild for photographers and other reporters that would be the official source for all the businesses that exist on celeb news would be a much better idea."

With all due respect, isn't that like expecting politicians to cut out pork projects or letting the inmates run the asylum? A photographer's job is to get the picture. If he/she has no regard for the nuisance created or the danger it creates, then the authorities have a duty to do something about it. It would also help considerably if there were no market for the pictures--demand drives the insanity. (This means QUIT BUYING THE MAGAZINES!)

Posted by: LA | February 12, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I'd have a dedicated member of my posse take license numbers and take pics of the paps so I coud sue, sue, sue if I were pursued to my home or on the freeway.

that person's salary would be worth their weight in gold.

Posted by: were I a celebrity | February 12, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Siena feels "hunted" if!!

Posted by: possum | February 12, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Hey - what were the results of last week's captioning contest?

Posted by: lydacole | February 12, 2008 1:07 PM | Report abuse

1) Manufacture guns that look like cameras
2) ?????
3) Profit

See - all we really need are a few camera guns, a couple mark david chapman knockoffs, and gawker. The problem will sort itself out.

Posted by: Quintilus Varus | February 12, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

It's me again.

The closeness of the photographers to their victims, the volume of the photographers on a scene, the disorienting nature of the flashes, the omnipresence of the photographers in some victims' lives, the manner in which they physically trap their victims, the manner in which they verbally taunt and provoke their victims, and their reckless vehicle chases all constitute good reasons for defining their actions as a serious type of harassment.

It is fully a type of stalking. Calling it freedom of the press is laughable. It's like calling a dangerous, creepy male stalker a romantic in pursuit of love.

Current laws don't fully cover the problem. Nor can the police be everywhere. In the broader scheme of crimes, the photographers' traffic violations are not a priority.

But having more stringent laws, with more severe punishments, could give more leverage for increased police attention and civil suits by victims.

If celebrities shouldn't have extra rights, they should at least have equal rights. What citizen wouldn't consider it a gross intrusion on their rights to be targeted this way? A 20-yard zone is little enough.

It is sometimes said that constitutional freedoms are tested by the worst cases, such as freedom of assembly for Nazi's marching in Jewish neighborhoods. There's some truth to that -- both ways.

These photographers and the businesses that buy their photos should be classified with Nazis and other loathesome people whose bad behavior tests our willingness to defend freedom.

Apart from legal considerations is the degradation to journalism and the degradation to our society from the attention to celebrities.

Posted by: Eric | February 12, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

How often has there been a prosecution of paps for such offences that they seem to believe are part of their job like trespassing, speeding, running red lights ect. By my recolection no such event has ever been reported as happening in LA so it is either invisible or non-existent enforcement. Stopping to take pictures on a freeway on ramp is deserving of at least a traffic ticket.

Posted by: cmsore | February 12, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

"It would also help considerably if there were no market for the pictures--demand drives the insanity. (This means QUIT BUYING THE MAGAZINES!)"

Or posting gratuitous pictures on a blog. Did we really need to see the ambulance one again? Please explain your reasoning. You don't want to be manipulated into hating the players, but you're one of the players. Right? How can you deny it when you post that picture again??

This is a BLOG, not a column or a newspaper article. By definition, it's your picks. Why did you have to take yet another shot at Britney? It's odd.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 12, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Although I think that photogs have a right to be where they want and take pictures of whatever they want, I could see either whatever rules are in place already be enforced or a rule created that would at least not allow paps to have high speed chases or possibly endanger the life of whoever is trying to just live their life an get away.
I agree that when you choose to be a celebrity, you have to take all of the good and bad in with it...but safety needs to be addressed if swarms of paps are getting too agressive to get the shot.

You also have to wonder though...the celebs that end up in trouble are the ones that run through the mob. Many stars don't have a large problem because they stop for the photo op and chat for a minute.
I mean, if you provide the shot, then they won't chase after you...

Posted by: Ohyouknow | February 12, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I think this is called a Red Herring. Multiple requests to leave Spears out of Celebritolgy, and now this. Like hiding behind this story as a way to both avoid the requests (while seeming to hear them) but also to post more pictures! "Here she is -- losing it!! WAhoo!!! Let's see it AGAIN."

Posted by: Wait a Second | February 12, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

The question of taking the bad with the good is a fair point to raise. I used to believe that, too.

Celebrities get a lot of benefits from their status. They get a lot of gifts, a lot of favors. Idiot juries give them a free ride when they are charged with crimes, etc.

And a lot of the photography stuff is harmless by not being excessive. I also know that some people court publicity. (I dispute that Spears does, because I don't think she's sane enough to act with intention.)

With Spears (who, by the way, I'm not a fan of), it's a different situation. It's a level of frenzied saturation of a person who, quite likely, is seriously mentally ill. This type of "coverage" is like beating up a homeless person. It's sick in the moral sense.

Posted by: Eric | February 12, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I think that was Jennifer Anniston who said when I'm working, I'm working, but when I'm having dinner with friends, leave me alone. I agree. My work day ends at 5:00, and I don't want to deal with work issues on my own time.

Posted by: Arlington | February 12, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Hold it a sec, Arlington. At your 9-to-5 job, you have something called a job description, which says that, once you get off fom work, you're done doing your job.

However, the "job description" of movie or recording star (note: not simple actor or musician, but actual "star") includes keeping the public interested in your life. This has been a fact of those industries since at least the 1930's, only, up until about the 80's, the studios/record labels were able to control the press, so that the publicity was manufactured. Now, not surprisingly, when we discover that the studios lied to us about the Tab Hunters, Rock Hudsons and Natalie Woods of their manufactured world, we, the consumers of their product, demand an impartial look at the manner in which the "stars" which they try to sell us, live their lives. It's not necessarily an unfair demand, even if the result sometimes looks messy.

And using Jennifer Aniston, who WAS a TV star, but is not now, nor never has been, a movie STAR and is merely living off her Friends residuals, as the voice of reason on this one, is kind of off point.

Johnny Carson was one of the, if not THE hugest TV star of a generation. Even as rumors of his failing health started to surface, you didn't see a lot of press hounding him when he would go out on the town. So there must be a way to avoid the press and lead a simple, pap-free life, even if you're pretty famous. And I'm guessing that having your publicist call People magazine so you can schedule an interview about how you'd like all the photographers to leave you alone might not be the best way to accomplish the stated goal.

Posted by: Not so fast... | February 12, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Back in the day, leading a simple, pap free life was a lot easier. There was no Access Hollywood, Extra, Gawker, etc. There wasn't a 24/7 news cycle to fill, and 75 million celeb mags/blogs/tabloids following you everywhere. I've seen pictures of celebs going to home depot; is that supposed to keep my interested in them or their careers? "Oh look! She's buying potted plants and paint, I must see her new movie!!" Please.

It's not as much about the public's need/want to know, or the celebs generating interest for their new projects. It's about scooping your competitor and raising your profits. They aren't carring out some noble profession, and seriously, people who need to know EVERY LITTLE THING about a celebrity desperately needs a life. A little gossip and dish is cool, but I doubt many of us could withstand the scrutiny we expect celebrities to.

Come to think of it, due to the proliferation of public cameras, camera phones, wire taps, etc we probably ARE under that much scrutiny, we just don't realize it. The gov't probably knows more about us, who we talk to, what we read, and our buying habits than we know about Britney.

Posted by: not a sermon, just a thought | February 12, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

They should enforce laws already on the books before they go about writing new laws.

Posted by: methinks | February 12, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Eric, what do you think of the picture at the top of this page? Do you think it should be there?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 12, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

No, of course not. First, it's been printed before so it has no news value. News used to be something that's new, by definition. Now it's an endless loop of the same thing. But that's not the moral issue, the "should" issue.

More importantly, it's exploitive. It's comparable to publishing a photo of an accident victim whose clothes have been cut away for an emergency medical procedure.

It's an invasion of privacy of a person who reasonably can be assumed to be mentally ill.

Posted by: Eric | February 12, 2008 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Celeb's best friend is herpes medication, considering all tha kissing on and off the screen to so many people. Disgusting!

Posted by: Mickey | February 12, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Beth, you wrote
"The photogs have gone way too far! Diana was killed in while trying to escape aggressive photogs. How many more people have to die before we do something???"
I agree that the paps are out of control. However, the late Diana Spencer died because she didn't care to buckle up while travelling at more than 70 mph in inner city traffic (Paris of all cities!). Nobody is above the laws of physics. Her bodyguard was buckled up, that's why he's alive.
There, I had to get rid of that. It was a tragic death, but avoidable, like most fatal accidents.

Posted by: HÃ¥gar | February 13, 2008 4:58 AM | Report abuse

I [heart] Eric

Posted by: Anonymous | February 13, 2008 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Poor Brit.

Posted by: Penchant Lama | February 13, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

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