California's New Anti-Paparazzi Penalties: Should Celebs Enforce Stalking Laws?

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07.JUNE.2010 - LONDON SUPERMODEL KATE MOSS PICTURED LEAVING THE DORCHESTER HOTEL IN CENTRAL LONDON LOOKING HAPPY! BYLINE MUST READ : JJCH1/starmaxinc.com  Photo via Newscom

In late August, the California legislature overwhelmingly passed amendments to stiffen penalties connected to its current anti-stalking law. You can read the bill here.

The objects of the amendments’ affection? Paparazzi who get too close. Lawmakers had sympathy for the idea that there is such a thing as paparazzi being too close, even to celebrities whom we might think don’t deserve such legal protections given that their careers are often spent in and dependent upon being the center of attention. The amendments were expected to be signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What makes this most recent iteration of protections unique is how the video below, which is of Kate Moss and her children being barricaded by a wall of humans with cameras from and then inside her car, was shown as a demonstration of the excruciating imagery of stalkerazzi putting parents, and children in particular, literally through a gauntlet. So horrifying is the clip that even a gossip site with a name such as Gawker eked out concern. Watch for yourself, if you can, this footage that was shown as an exhibit accompanying the vote on the bill. I couldn’t get past the first two minutes.

I understand that these people -- the ones being stalked -- make money by enticing me to watch them, as models, as actors, or as sports stars. And I understand that the photographers are “just doing their job” by getting photographs of these models, actors and sports stars -- all of which the public pays to see. But even so, after watching that clip, it’s hard for me to see this situation as just a case of “they chose to be in the public eye, so they have to put up with being consumed.”

Questions and answers:

The problem becomes this, however: If we say no, they don’t have to put up with it, on whom do we place the burden to ensure that? Is Kate Moss entitled to any privacy? Are her children? To what extent does the First Amendment require her to put up with whatever so-called members of the press claim they have a right to do? Who exactly is the press for these purposes, now that the "press" can be nearly anyone, since now nearly anyone can publish for a broad audience?

How much security must a celebrity provide and at what point can he or she expect others to take care of it for him or her? At what point must the paparazzi pull back -- and how far? When should law enforcement step in? Is it appropriate for the harassment concerns of a celebrity to put more stress on safety and security needs for everyone else?

The new amendments seek to provide a few more concrete answers. But as with most statutes, it’s the cases that arise after the law is in effect that will help flesh out the answers. What might happen under the new law in any of these cases:

Is U.S. Open tennis champion Kim Clijsters' daughter, just two-and-a-half years old, the fair game? The toddler recently protested having her picture taken when her mother brought her onto the tennis court.

For the second year in a row, Clijsters celebrated her victory by fooling around with her infant daughter on the centre court. The photographers lined up to start snapping away but Jada protested. “No photos, no photos,” she told them.

Clijsters giggled and the crowd at Arthur Ashe Ashe Stadium lapped it up.

Does the photog have to literally smash into a vehicle before the line is crossed? Michael Jackson died last year and his kids still need to travel with lead and tailing cars -- one of which was hit last year by paparazzi literally following too closely. And the children continue to go to school now with bodyguards. Did they really ask for this, in the way that their father perhaps earned it, wanted it, had to endure it his entire life living in the entertainment world?

The examples continue: the Beckhams' son seems to fly the finger at the camera flashers; Jennifer Garner reportedly "... wishes the laws would protect her more [as t]he photographers have made the daily trip to preschool an almost impossible task for them and other parents."

And when there's a blog called Celebrity Moms that, of course, posts photos of celebrity moms and their kids (that appears to be done tastefully from what I could see, but still, we're consuming it, right?), where do we draw the line?

So many questions remain including, but not limited to:

Where is the line, reasonably speaking, taking into consideration all these realities of stardom and feasting on stardom, between staking out and stalking? And is a $5,000 fine enough to deter one from becoming the other? Should the penalties be stiffer? What about the consumption -- should we feel guilty? How guilty are we? How guilty do you feel? Enough to stop buying what they’re selling that results from the staking -- or stalking?

More fascinating reading on this topic:

On BlogHer, Celebrities: The Cost of Fame, by Annette Fergusson

From Megan's Minute, Britney Spears, Let's Just Stone Her

From the First Amendment Coalition, Concerns arise about California Assembly bill to control paparazzi

Paparazzi and Privacy, in the Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review [Vol 28: 205; 1/29/09]

Jill Writes Like She Talks In The Arena: Jill Miller Zimon, Pepper Pike City Council Member

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