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Posted at 11:02 AM ET, 10/19/2009

Will California's new anti-paparazzi law have any effect?

By Liz Kelly

Photographers swarm Paris Hilton's home in 2007. (Reuters)

Comment Box

[F]ill us in on the finer points of California's new anti-paparazzi law. I am confused: does it mean no more car chases? No more shots of little kids? No more traveling in packs? (I'm not actually opposed to any of this but I'm curious to know what this does to celebrity news coverage.) -- Submitted to last week's Celebritology Live discussion

Lest you think paps were free to take upskirt shots and loiter outside Beverly Hills private schools waiting to snap celeb-spawn, know that California has attempted to rein them in before. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger passed an anti-paparazzi law in 2005 meant to increase the stakes for "overly-aggressive" photographers. Several high profile celebrity/paparazzi car chases that year -- and some fender benders -- were the inspiration for toughening the state's law, originally passed in 1998 after Princess Diana died in a car crash while fleeing from paparazzi.

This time, the law -- set to take effect in January 2010 -- is widening its scope to include "news" outlets who publish any "illegally obtained" photos, which could account for a big chunk of the Internet's go-to celebrity blogs and some print tabloids.

Sean Burke, founder of the Paparazzi Reform Initiative (a site that, among other things, catalogs celeb/paparazzi run-ins), says few realize how invasive the paparazzi can be, calling the atmosphere in L.A. "the Wild West." The new law, Burke says, makes a point to mention not just individuals (aka celebs), but their families -- who often find themselves targeted by aggressive paps.

The former bodyguard also hailed the new law in a blog post on his site. The laws, he writes, won't just benefit the bold name set:

The problem of intrusive photography once was a problem relatively unique to famous persons. Now, in the Internet Age, it can affect anyone who is unfortunate enough to be the subject of a photograph that is posted on a hobbyist's blog.

As expected, not everyone is ecstatic over the crackdown. Kelly Davis, managing editor of X17online.com, says the law won't change anything for the popular online celebrity photo site because they already work within the law. And, citing the increasing popularity of celeb shots -- not just for paparazzi agencies, but for more tradtiional news outlets -- Davis is careful to invoke freedom of the press protection:

"In the US, the First Amendment still protects our right as journalists to photograph or videotape a celebrity," said Davis. "At  X17online, we feel certain that companies in this business, like AOL/Time Warner and Microsoft, will fight to defend our First Amendment rights."

And a response from the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press warns of possible spillover effects on legitimate news gatherers.

That's assuming the law is enforced. Though, even if it is, a few civil cases are unlikely to deter paps looking for a payday. Writes one blogger at Jezebel.com: "...as long as there's significant money to be made in the 'undignified treatment' of celebrities, paparazzi are going to be as undignified as they have to be."

By Liz Kelly  | October 19, 2009; 11:02 AM ET
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Comments

Uh, Ms. Davis, reasonable time, place, manner restrictions on the First Amendment have always been acceptable. For example, no staking out the kid's school just because the parents are famous. Also, the First Amendment's main purpose is to protect the public right's to know about the working of their GOVERNMENT. I sincerely doubt the free world will fall if we don't know what Paris is demanding for her movie shoot. However, it may fall if we see anymore photos of Jon Gosselin lounging by a pool.

Posted by: epjd | October 19, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

How is a publication to determine whether or not a photograph has been obtained illegally?

I don't think this law will do much to curtail the paps, because there will always be a market for their wares. Enforcement at the time the photos are being taken might have some effect, but post-publication actions are futile. Even if a fine is large enough to shut down one publication, another will crop up in its place. And what about web pages, like this one, that link to a site that publishes an illegally obtained photo - are they also violating the law, even though they did not pay for the photo and are not directly benefitting/profiting from its publication?

Posted by: northgs | October 19, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

I predict the anti-pap law will have the effect of manking victims, if not heroes, out of the paparazzi.

Minor quibble: Ahnuld didn't pass the anti-pap law in '05 b/c governators don't pass laws. They do sign em tho. At least I think. Kalifohnia IS different...

Posted by: reddragon1 | October 19, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

well, after the situation with the ralph lauren ad and one prominent blog - and the fact that they tried to issue a DMCA takedown on copyright infringement (which was beyond bogus) over their coverage (and failed due to the hosting provider having been in Canada), my sense is that you'll simply see the successful online celeb sites move overseas to avoid domestic legal entanglements. But it may take a couple ugly lawsuits before that all comes to pass.

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | October 19, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I mean "making" not "manking." Altho that might work too.

And how much can we pay them NOT to take upskirts of certain designated people?

Posted by: reddragon1 | October 19, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

"At X17online, we feel certain that companies in this business, like AOL/Time Warner and Microsoft, will fight to defend our First Amendment rights."

Sigh.

The truth is, these days, First Amendment rights are only exercised when it's cheap and easy to do so.

For every reporter covering the budget mess in Sacramento, there are 30 covering Lindsay Lohan.

Posted by: mdreader01 | October 19, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

This law will be as effective as the laws against texting while driving... NONE!

Posted by: SatchelPooch | October 19, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Just have INS show up wherever the paparazzi are and see what happens

Posted by: bendan2000 | October 19, 2009 8:25 PM | Report abuse

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