The American Heritage Dictionary defines paparazzi as a freelance photographer who doggedly pursues celebrities to take candid pictures. Paparazzi make money by selling their photos and videos to reputed publications across the world. One single photo or a video clipping is simultaneously sold to several publications. The more famous the person is and the more embarrassing the photograph is to the celebrity, the bigger is the price. The most unique shots of famous personalities can even fetch millions of dollars. These includes situations where the celebrities are drunk, getting angry, tripping and falling or with undone hair. Given the money associated with their work, paparazzi work 24/7 either alone or in teams and try to strike rich with just one picture or video clipping. To track the celebrities and to know their whereabouts, they have financial arrangements with waiters, bar tenders, limo drivers, etc. The paparazzi population is all set to explode from the present thousands to even millions. As almost everyone has a mobile phone with which they can take pictures, people like tourists, shoppers, nurses, gardeners, neighbors; are all being transformed into a big paparazzi mob.
The term ‘paparazzi’ became familiar across the world, with the tragic death of Diana, the princess of Wales in 1997. The princess had been an object of global fascination and documentation in mass media, ever since she started dating Prince Charles in 1980. Photographers affiliated to tabloids in the UK and the US had created, and also contributed to documentation frenzy. The photographs of Diana were in fact equivalent for the woman herself and pictures of her in the tabloids were a perfect substitution of her real self. A study of photographs from several news magazines, memorial publications and tabloids in the month prior to her death and the subsequent months following her death show that they had been edited, in the aftermath of her death (Chancey, 163 – 175). It is a well known fact that the response to her death was global and overwhelming. Her death occupied more space in the British press than that by World War II.
Photographs enable people to feel as if they know a person very well and in course of time, establish strong bonds with the photographed person, despite not seeing him or her in person. In the case of Diana it was photographs that had created a fascination for her, and it was also photographs that had contributed to the global outpour of grief, when she died. Diana’s case highlighted Baudrillard’s concept of simulacrum (1981) where he opines that in the age of continuously proliferating mass produced images, the ‘reality has become redundant’. It is the image created by the modern communication technologies, like televisions that matter, which proliferate self-generating and self-mirroring images. Photographs serve as evidence for mass media and not the judicial system, which had produced the simulacrum Diana. Diana was first portrayed in the tabloid press as a ‘bad girl whore’ and later as a ‘fairy tale princess’ upon her death.
Exploitation through photojournalism had been more or less consistent across the century. The celebrity photographs had been an important ingredient of the tabloids, even since the start of the century, that attract millions of readers. These tabloids are today willing to pay exorbitant amounts for the most invasive photographs. For only the money paid by these media outlets, paparazzi would camp on a tree for days together in frigid weather, just for a photo of a celebrity with her newborn baby. All kinds of celebrity photographs like their coffins, their babies, their personal habits, associated crime scenes; everything has a big commercial value. There have been several shocking instances of privacy breach by paparazzi including the recent photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate. According to Ken Sunshine, a publicist who represents several Hollywood stars, the obsession of paparazzi to his clients has got out of control and that it had to stop. Terming the behavior of photographers as intolerable, he notes that while some celebrities crave for attention, paparazzi are welcome there, and even make as much of money they could (CNN Entertainment). However there are also a lot of celebrities that do not want this attention, and therefore have a right to be protected of their privacy. Ken demands a firm boundary to the activities of the paparazzi, given the fact that even the privacy of the children of celebrities is being invaded.
The press had for long been a source of information which also served the purpose of an important check on the government. But despite its importance, the press like any other institution had the potential to misuse its freedom. In recent times, private individuals more than the government have been complaining the intrusive and harassing tactics of the tabloid photographers. There has been a demand for balancing, the people’s right to know against a person’s right to privacy. A significant revolution and grounds for development of common laws to protect privacy of individuals, was already evident subsequent to the 1890 article ‘The Right to Privacy’ by Samuel Warren and Louis Branders. The article criticized the press for its overstepping attitude and suggested a new tort for privacy violations. The idea gradually gained popularity and by the year 1960, a majority of states had torts, recognizing privacy in different forms. The concept of privacy developed into four distinct forms of torts (Harvard Law Review Association, 1367 – 1384):
- Unreasonable intrusion
- Public disclosure
- False publicity, and
- Appropriation of an individual’s name or likeliness.
In addition to this, more privacy protection had been provided through torts of harassment, trespass and reckless endangerment. In recent times, with the media competition creating a frenzy among reporters and producers to put up sensational and enticing stories, the traditional torts had been frequently used. The tort of unreasonable intrusion later served as a model for the California anti-paparazzi statute that highlighted ‘an individual’s claim to have a right to personal space’. Unfortunately with the development of technology, attributes of personal space that were once ‘private’ were soon becoming public. With increasing protests that the traditional tort laws were failing to adequately cover privacy interests, the need for anti-paparazzi laws were stressed.
In response to the rising perception that news gathering activity was becoming highly unacceptable and intrusive, the state and federal legislators took steps to supplement the prevailing tort liabilities for privacy invasion. The Congress subsequently introduced the anti-paparazzi legislation in 1996 and in 1998 California enacted laws directed at invasive new gathering, becoming the first state to do so. The California state legislature passed the Senate Bill 262, which was more directed at addressing loss of privacy due to technological developments. Despite much opposition from the press, on September 29, 1998, the bill was signed into law by the governor. In 2005 the law was further expanded to target photographs originating from the paparazzi. The photographers not only had to forfeit their profits arising from such photos, but were also subject to triple damages in civil action (Locke, 227-247). Further amendments in 2009, that became effective in 2010, were targeted at the markets of the paparazzi. Fines of up to $50,000 were imposed on those who first published the illegal photos.
An important aspect of the California statutes was that it attempts to interpret and regulate privacy in terms of constraints like social norms, markets and physical barriers. These three factors together help in achieving a reasonable or desired level of regulation:
Social norms: These norms specify constraints like what is right and permitted and what is wrong and not permitted. These social norms are mainly enforced through community where deviant behavior is punished with public embarrassment.
Markets: An individual’s behavior is affected by market requirement. For instance unusual photographs have a higher public demand, with people willing to pay more for it. Therefore curbs on the publishing of such unusual photographs that might be associated to a celebrity for instance, serve as a barrier for photographers.
Physical: Physical barriers can directly secure an individual’s privacy. These barriers might be defined in terms of distances, timings etc. beyond which any entry would be deemed as illegal. Thus physical barriers prevent encroachment into an individuals’ private space.
However the implementation of the law wasn’t easy as was seen in numerous cases, like that of the singer, producer Justin Bieber. A photographer Paul Raef was arrested for chasing Justin Bieber and charged with four misdemeanors including two counts for following another vehicle dangerously, reckless driving with an intention of taking pictures and for failure to obey an officer. The judge ruled several aspects of the law as being unconstitutional (Brandt). The judge ruled that preventing one from following and taking pictures is a violation of an individual’s First Amendment rights. The First Amendment rights make known that the Congress would not make any law establishing religion or prevent the freedom of speech or that of the press. Therefore anti-paparazzi laws or any law regarding privacy could be intricately intertwined with a breach of First Amendment rights. The judge also noted that people, who performed their jobs while also taking the risk of a criminal punishment, would have a negative impact on professionals like news gatherers and wedding photographers. The judge concluded that the law in its current form enables punishments of such professionals, if their task included a celebrity.
The California legislations had sought to restrict the use of ‘enhancement devices’ which include zoom lenses and high powered microphones that enable one to capture images from distances, unnoticed. With sophisticated telephoto lenses, paparazzi photograph celebrities, without any trespass. While the law prevents paparazzi from entering private premises to take pictures, the paparazzi are free to take pictures of a private property, from any public property. While there are also stalking laws to protect celebrities from surveillance by individuals and crazy fans, these are not sufficient to protect them from paparazzi. Invoking of stalking laws require establishing that there is a reasonable fear which isn’t possible with paparazzi, as the intention of the paparazzi is only to take pictures and not to cause harm. Therefore even if the celebrity is in fear of a stalking paparazzi, stalking laws cannot be readily invoked.
As celebrities develop their position in public spotlight, they generate considerable interest in their activities.. Although the right to privacy is equally applicable to both public and private figures, public figures have a harder time preventing or recovering from a privacy intrusion. This may be attributed to the limited scope of activities that can be labeled as private, in the lives of public figures like celebrities. This therefore calls for a debate on the rights of celebrities. Celebrities are entitled to privacy rights like any individual, but their rights are narrowly protected and more often breached. Stories of the day-to-day happenings of celebrities invoke great interest among people than that of unknown individuals. A large amount of information is thus passed out into the public domain, breaching the privacy levels.
Despite emphasizing on the importance of an individual’s right to privacy, when it comes to law enforcement, there is always a counter interest too in the society (Morton, 1435-1472). Each legislative approach on protecting privacy and thwarting encroachment is always accompanied with exceptions to law enforcement officials. An individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, should not only cover paparazzi, but also include police surveillance. Thus legislative efforts to protect privacy from private interests like media cannot be achieved without imposing the same restrictions on law enforcement personnel.
For a long time paparazzi had been scot free and uncontrolled in their news gathering methods. However with the death of Princes Diana, Paparazzi techniques came in for greater scrutiny, the world over. There was a larger call for the regulation, which made governments reconsider their approach on privacy rights, particularly those involving celebrities. Today with many states having anti-paparazzi laws, claiming an invasion of privacy has varied requirements for the states. Some states accept a claim of invasion only when there is a commercial gain to the perpetrator though his action. Some states also rule that while publishing of a photograph without consent is an invasion, just taking one isn’t an invasion. The establishment of laws isn’t sufficient as many of these are ineffective due to many loopholes in them. The laws were also proved to be less effective as these could be interpreted narrowly.
The public on their part react as if they know the individual and presume they are entitled to know the private lives of these celebrities. This attitude of the public is more associated with curiosity, and celebrity status requires satisfying public curiosity. Perhaps, it can therefore be said that in order to reach a celebrity status, one not only need to make the required achievements, but also be willing to compromise a certain level of privacy. It must be emphasized here that the celebrities cannot be provided greater protection to ensure their private interests, compared to any other individual. Celebrities by virtue of their public limelight, get more attention in their lives. The argument by celebrities about the lack of news worthiness cannot be held valid, as the newsworthiness should be reflected by public perception and not the judgment of the celebrity. There are clear indications that paparazzi cases brought to court were largely ineffective. But there has also been a lacking on the part of celebrities too, to bring in legal actions against privacy intruders. There could be several reasons for this, such as desire not to draw unwanted attention to the intrusion, or due to economic constraints like time, money etc. Unfortunately such inaction of the part of the celebrities gives an impression of tolerance to the techniques employed by the paparazzi (Nordhaus, 286 – 315).
The celebrities too require to be blamed for their situation. There is no hiding the truth that prominent actors, models and television personalities seek the press for their publicity and interests. However they begin to cry foul, when they don’t like the story being reported or when pictures are clicked when they are not at their best. Many people opine that it is impossible for celebrities to ensure their interests in both ways. When celebrities can use the media for their benefit, the media can use them reciprocally too. The effect of media is that it can be constructive or destructive to any development or to individuals, and celebrities are not an exception to these. Journalists and photographers cannot be made to appear before celebrities when they require them and ensure they disappear when they aren’t needed. Another aspect of celebrities is that they seek press and publicity when they struggle to establish themselves and secure a good fan-following. Later when they are established and don’t need the media anymore, they try and avoid it. The question arising now is much more than a mere breach of personal rights or privacy, given the fact that the paparazzi treat celebrities as if they have no rights at all. There needs to be restrictions or limits to the adventures of these paparazzi..
It must be mentioned here that the legal systems are in themselves a reactive instrument to implement social adjustments. Whenever a situation arise that is harmful to the society, the legal systems enact new laws to reduce or offset the effect. For instance the regulations on the sale of tobacco were implemented when the effects of smoking became apparent (Paparazzi Reform). The freedom to smoke was considered damaging to the society, and thus required to be restricted. A concerted action of public, celebrities, courts and legislature against the press, cannot be an answer to paparazzi invasion. The media should voluntarily implement standards and regulate their own behavior. They need to review their news gathering practices, evaluate it and modify them to make it fair to all. Tabloid publishers and editors could put a cap on the price they would offer for an invasive picture. Only photographers working under a salary or a contract could be used. Whatever effort could be implemented to reduce paparazzi would be ineffective as long as the public desire and accept photographs by paparazzi. The media has defended itself by blaming public for this insatiable appetite for celebrity photos, which it says expands tabloid operations and the paparazzi industry. Right or wrong, it is absolutely impossible to educate the public to forgo their curiosity to private lives, because public curiosity and the celebrity status of the individual always complement each other.
There are many legal statutes and clauses that could interpret media actions and intentions in their favor; however people in the media should not exploit these in an unfair manner. The power and freedom of the media had been a reflection of the society that had been traditionally cherished, which shouldn’t become questionable and jeopardized, by irresponsible action of the media. Unless they do these, the free press runs the risk of having their rights severely restricted. A free press and the rights of individuals complement each other and form the core of the fabric, of any modern society.
Brandt. Jaclyn. “Judge rules it unconstitutional” . 2012. Web. 25 Nov.2012
Chancey, Jill R. “Diana Doubled: The Fairytale Princess and the Photographer.” NWSA Journal . 11.2 (1999): 163-176. Print.
CNN Entertainment. “ Why Paparazzi are wrong?. www.cnn.com 2006. Web. 23 Nov. 2012
Harvard Law Review Association. “Privacy, technology and the California ‘Anti-Paparazzi ‘Statute.” Harvard Law Review. 112. 6 (1999) 1367 – 1384. Print.
Locke, Christina M. “Does anti-paparazzi mean anti-press?.” Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law 20:2 (2010): 227 – 247. Print.
Morton, Andrew D. “Much Ado about Newsgathering: Personal Privacy, Law Enforcement, and the Law of Unintended Consequences for Anti-Paparazzi Legislation” 147.6 (1999) 1435-1472. Print.
Nordhaus, Jamie E. “Celebrities rights to privacy: How far should the paparazzi be allowed to go?.” The Review of Litigation 18.2 (1999) 286 – 315. Print.
Paparazi reform. Org. The Paparazzi reform initiative. 2012. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.