Could Prosecution of Photographer in Bieber Case Deter Aggressive Paparazzi Practices?
In July 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that a photographer is facing criminal charges for recklessly pursuing Justin Bieber in a high-speed chase to obtain photographs of the young star. The man may be the first charged under new anti-paparazzi laws enacted to prevent photographers from endangering the public in their pursuit of celebrities, explains a California personal injury lawyer.
Bieber was driving his vehicle on the 101 freeway in excess of 80 miles per hour while being pursued by several photographers. Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, who was traveling on the roadway at the time, contacted 911 to report the reckless driving. When law enforcement pulled Bieber over, he indicated he was attempting to escape the paparazzi. Bieber was ticketed; the photographer, Paul Raef, evaded authorities at the scene but was identified by his license plate.
On July 27, the Los Angeles Times reported that Raef was charged with reckless driving, failure to obey the order of a peace officer, two counts of following another vehicle too closely, and reckless driving with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain.
Because he was acting in a dangerous manner behind the wheel to obtain pictures of a celebrity, Raef faces potential criminal conviction under a new strict anti-paparazzi law. The law is intended to prevent paparazzi from crossing the line when taking celebrity photographs, such as driving recklessly or creating a sense of false imprisonment. Passed in 2010, Assembly Bill 2479 strengthened existing laws in California that aimed to protect the privacy of celebrities.
The Anti-Paparazzi Laws
In 1998, California passed the first anti-paparazzi laws in the United States in an attempt to reign in photographers who were creating dangerous situations. Although there were already tort laws in existence for invasion of privacy, many of these laws did not provide sufficient protections to celebrities, especially since public figures are provided with only limited protections in order to balance first amendment concerns.
The law created a cause of action that would allow celebrities to sue a person who intruded upon their private space to capture images or to record the celebrity engaging in a personal or family matter if the intrusion was one that would be considered offensive to a reasonable person. This law was codified in California Civil Code section 1708.8.
In 2005, the anti-paparazzi law was amended to establish that assault committed with intent to photograph or record a person could give rise to the same remedies that are available for either physical or constructive invasion of privacy. It was amended in 2009 in Assembly Bill 524 to expand the definition of “invasion of privacy” to include selling, publishing or broadcasting pictures or other impressions of people engaged in personal or familial activities if those pictures were unlawfully obtained.
Unfortunately, these laws were still not enough to prevent the paparazzi from engaging in reckless and egregious behavior, giving rise to the 2010 amendment imposing criminal penalties on paparazzi who act aggressively to create a sense of false imprisonment.
Today, under California’s anti-paparazzi laws, photographers who break traffic laws or interfere with a celebrity’s car can face a fine of up to $5,000, as well as a year in jail.
The recent arrest of Raef illustrates that the need for strict anti-paparazzi laws is very real. There is a long history of aggressive behavior on the part of those seeking celebrity photographs. Perhaps the most famous example of a paparazzi-related accident is the 1997 death of Princess Diana. While speeding and driving recklessly to avoid photographers, her chauffeur crashed the vehicle in which she was riding. In addition, The New York Times has reported on other cases of paparazzi aggression involving Cameron Diaz, Lindsay Lohan, and Reese Witherspoon.
The recent incident involving Justin Bieber suggests that the 2005 anti-paparazzi legislation has done little to deter photographers from engaging in risky practices to obtain images of celebrities. Hopefully, the first prosecution of a photographer will send a message to others that there are serious legal implications for such reckless behavior.
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