Are new laws needed to protect against paparazzi?

Photographers try to capture an image of actress Lindsay Lohan upon her arrival to the Beverly Hills Courthouse for her surrender to serve her 90 day jail sentence on July 20, 2010.

A photographer died in Los Angeles yesterday in pursuit of a picture of the Ferrari belonging to pop star Justin Bieber. Turns out, the singer wasn’t even in the car. But the market for celebrity photos can push paparazzi to take risks.

In a statement, Bieber said he hopes the tragedy will inspire meaningful legislation “to protect the lives and safety of celebrities, police officers, innocent public bystanders, and the photographers themselves."

California enacted an anti-paparazzi law three years ago under celebrity governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But a judge ruled it unconstitutional.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, objects to stereo-typing all photographers as ‘paparazzi.’

“I can’t tell you how many times in forty years I had to run across the highway to photograph and record a traffic accident. And I certainly would not have appreciated being called a paparazzo when I was acting as a news photographer,” says Osterreicher. He sees no need for new legislation because laws already exist to protect against stalking, reckless driving and invasion of privacy.

“It’s a slippery-slope that you start to go down when you start to single out specific people because you don’t like what it is that they do,” says Osterreicher.

In some states, laws prohibit photographers from taking pictures of farms. Osterreicher says such “ag-gags” aim to block activists who use photos and video to demonstrate what they view as animal cruelty.

Celebrity photographer Giles Harrison agrees that the industry doesn’t need new regulations. Harrison, who owns the London Entertainment photo agency, says the market exists because the public has an insatiable demand for celebrity gossip.

“People want to know what celebrity lives are about, they just don’t want to necessarily know how you get the photos. But it there wasn’t a market, there would be no business,” says Harrison.

If Justin Bieber had been driving the Ferrari, Harrison says, a photo of the singer getting a speeding ticket could have been worth around $2,000.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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