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California Anti-Paparazzi Law Would Threaten First Amendment Rights

August 16th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Earlier this summer the California legislature proposed a new “anti-paparazzi” bill, which NPPA opposes. More recently, Actresses Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner testified before the California State Assembly, voicing their support for the bill that carries with it serious First Amendment implications. The measure would make it illegal to photograph a child because of their parent’s job (i.e, acting) without the parent’s permission, and expands the scope of existing California harassment law while increasing the penalty for a violation.   Photographers convicted under the measure could face up to year in prison.  SB 606 would also allow an aggrieved party to pursue enhanced civil suit against a photographer.

If the bill is ultimately signed in to law, anyone with a camera who tries to get a snapshot of a celebrity’s child could be liable if their conduct “alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the child” and causes “substantial emotional distress.”  It’s not the clearest of legal standards, and the bill doesn’t offer much more in the way of explanation, something NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher took issue with in opposing the bill.  “We are extremely concerned that the bill as it pertains to photography and recording is overly broad and vague and infringes upon otherwise protected forms of speech and expression,” Osterreicher said, also noting that the terms used in the bill are “vague and susceptible to subjective interpretation.”

The mercurial relationship between the Hollywood “paparazzi” and the stars they photograph is well documented.  Confrontations are not uncommon.   Protecting children is certainly a laudable goal, but there are already laws in place for situations when someone, photographer or otherwise, steps over the line.  With this in mind, Osterreicher contends that the measure in question unjustifiably blurs the line between actual harassment and valuable First Amendment activities, saying “[the bill] fails to recognize those acts done for valid newsgathering or expressive purposes and in fact creates additional liability for visual journalists and members of the public with a camera.”

“[T]he First Amendment has permitted restrictions on few historic categories of speech, including obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, and speech integral to criminal conduct,” Osterreicher continued. “Visual images and recordings of another person, albeit a child, who is out in public where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy should not be added to that list.”

Again, there’s a difference between punishing photographers who harass someone and defining photography as harassment in and of itself.

This isn’t the first time the California legislators have targeted photographers. A 2010 anti-paparazzi law was called into question earlier this year, when a judge threw out charges against a photographer who authorities say was driving recklessly while attempting to get picture of Justin Bieber.  The judge said the law was unconstitutionally broad and violated the First Amendment.   The NPPA along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and six other media organizations filed and Amicus Letter Brief on behalf of the photographer. That ruling is currently under review.

SB 606 passed the California State Assembly and is set to go to appropriations committee.  As the bill moves closer to becoming law, legislators should take care not to allow a distaste for the manner in which some photographers conduct themselves to undermine their ability to uphold their duty to defend free speech rights guaranteed to all citizens.

Posted in anti-paparazzi, California, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, Paparazzi, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Public Photography, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press | No Comments »



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