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California Paparazzi Law Puts First Amendment in Spotlight

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California Paparazzi Law Puts First Amendment in Spotlight

Post by midangerous on Fri Nov 08, 2013 10:51 pm

In California, paparazzi are about as popular as wildfires. But some are wondering whether the state’s latest crackdown on the buzzing hordes has gone too far.

Under a new state law, a photographer can be sent to prison for trying to take a photo of a celebrity’s son or daughter without permission — either by following the child or lying in wait — and causing the child to suffer “substantial emotional distress.”

To be convicted, a jury would have to conclude that a reasonable child in a similar situation would have suffered such trauma. Repeat offenders face up to $30,000 in fines and a year in jail.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of the bill in September was cheered by actress Halle Berry and other celebrities who had lobbied lawmakers. While no one is mounting a “save the paparazzi” campaign, not everybody thinks it’s a good idea.

“Even though paparazzi may occupy the lowest rung of First Amendment activity, they still enjoy the Amendment’s full protection,” writes Julie Hilden, a columnist at legal information site Justia, who focuses on First Amendment issues. “And they must, if we are to protect First Amendment activity, because in some contexts, there may be a fine line between paparazzi and more legitimate journalists.”

She notes that celebrity parents in California already have the ability to pursue civil penalties against paparazzi for the kind of aggressive tactics targeted by the law.

The law doesn’t actually refer to “celebrities” but expands the definition and increases the penalties for the crime of harassing a child under the age of 16 “because of the employment of the child’s parent or guardian.”

Law enforcement and medical associations urged Mr. Brown to sign it. But the measure also rattled the nerves of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which criticized it as “overly broad, vague,” saying it would infringe “upon legitimate and protected forms of speech expression.”

The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Kevin de León, whose district includes Hollywood, said it would “give children, no matter who their parents are, protection from harassers who go to extremes to turn a buck.”

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Personal note: This law should have been enforced a long time ago!

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