How are paparazzi not considered harassment?
December 24, 2007 8:20 AM   Subscribe

How are paparazzi not considered harassment?

I understand that certain countries/states have laws against this sort of treatment, but every time I see hardcore paparazzi in the media, it's like these celebrities can't get their car out of a parking space. How is this not considered harassment? Just because its on public property doesn't mean you're allowed to annoy me as much as possible. Why hasn't this been cracked-down?
posted by miasma to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I suppose because harassment might imply nefarious intent. Where paparazzi are merely plying their trade. It's not personal. It's strictly business.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:24 AM on December 24, 2007


Because in a world where the host needs the parasite as much if not more than the parasite needs the host, you don't want to do too much to discourage the parasite.

Celebrities will complain about how hard the paparazzi makes their lives, and when one is particularly egregious, they may even sue, but ultimately most of those "famous" people desperately need to be famous, and the paparazzi makes that happen in a very real sense. The only thing worse than having somebody want to take your picture is not having somebody wanting to take your picture.
posted by willnot at 8:29 AM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think that logistically, it's difficult to know where to draw the line legally, without infringing on people's rights to congregate freely. At which point does it become illegal, and how do you quantify harassment, when there is no contact involved? As annoying as it is, to make it illegal would likely create a slippery slope that affects other legitimate forms of free social association.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:30 AM on December 24, 2007


They often will be in the direct path, but they might not physically block the way. They'll slowly and annoyingly scuttle back or clear a path as the celebrity proceeds. In the US, they're technically just taking a picture of the celebrity in public, where anyone is allowed to take pictures of whatever they want (sometimes you'll see pictures of the celebrity in private, but the picture was taken from a publicly accessible place). As long as they're not physically stopping the celebrity from going about their business, in most places, there's not much the clelebrity can do about it.

And what spacemanstix said. If the papparazi are not standing there like a wall, refusing to let the celebrity pass, but perhaps they are impeding the celebrity slightly, it's hard to draw the line.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:34 AM on December 24, 2007


It *is* harrassment if anyone cares to make a court case of it.

Unless a complaint is filed the police won't do anything about it though.
posted by tkolar at 8:37 AM on December 24, 2007


Celebrities will complain about how hard the paparazzi makes their lives, and when one is particularly egregious, they may even sue, but ultimately most of those "famous" people desperately need to be famous, and the paparazzi makes that happen in a very real sense. The only thing worse than having somebody want to take your picture is not having somebody wanting to take your picture.

There are lots of examples of stars and other public figures who have opted out of this trap. Renee Zellweger, who seemed to really relish the game early on, moved out of LA and stopped behaving in ways that attracted them. Matt Damon never played along. Ben Affleck figured it out. Note that these are all stars with *actual talent.* (OK maybe not Ben Affleck.) They don't need the paparazzi to have careers.
posted by nax at 8:37 AM on December 24, 2007


To be fair, Nax, sometimes you get so big that they follow you everywhere. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are out of LA but now have NY paparazzi to contend with (I think Garner is doing a play on broadway). Paparazzi followed Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to Africa, chartering helicopters and all such craziness.

The worst seem to be the ones that will insult you (or the date you're with) just to get a rise out of you to get a good photo.
posted by sharkfu at 8:49 AM on December 24, 2007


Really though...if no one bought the magazines there would be no need for paparazzi
posted by LiquidKarma at 8:52 AM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


As said, my understanding is that it is up to the "victim" to file a complaint. And there is a fine line between taking a picture and harassing. The celeb would have to determine what crosses the line, then pursue a legal case. It's probably just not worth the time, and it won't change anything.

Note that these are all stars with *actual talent.* (OK maybe not Ben Affleck.)
Not to derail, but you can include Affleck in the "talented" category. Best Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Awesome acting in Changing Lanes. Directed Gone Baby Gone. Those things almost balance out Pearl Harbor and Paycheck.

posted by The Deej at 8:56 AM on December 24, 2007


Problem is for every star that just wants to live their life, you get a Britney or a Paris that calls them up and tells them their schedule.

They call them stalkerazzi as a joke, but no one seemed to grow up and learn something when they killed Diana. I think they are criminals who should be treated as such.
posted by legotech at 9:10 AM on December 24, 2007


Point taken sharkfu (great nickname, by the way), but I don't think Brad and Angelina exactly discourage the paparazzi. That's one of the things Zellweger talks about-- how to discourage the shooters by altering her behavior (and not in ways that affected her freedom, either. She still does her own shopping and gets her hair done in public salons. She just doesn't alert the media every time; she's stopped signing autographs. She's stopped going to the hot spots. etc.) Affleck and Garner also seemed to have figured this out, as well as Julia Roberts, largely to protect their children. They still get stalked, but not nearly to the same extent anymore.
posted by nax at 9:14 AM on December 24, 2007


I would also guess (and this is just a hunch I have no actual legal knowledge of this) that since the paparazzi can probably be considered the "press" they can also hide at least a little behind the 1st Amendment. While most celebrities totally feed into the game (there are other places to eat in LA other than the Ivy) I'm sure there have been more than a few who would happily sue some of the more zealous photographers out of existence, I'm guessing this serves as some impediment to doing so.
posted by whoaali at 9:17 AM on December 24, 2007


What do you mean by "harassment?" Though I am not a criminal defense lawyer or prosecutor, I am not aware of any jurisdiction in the U.S. where "harassment" is a criminal offense. Harassment as a legal term generally refers to certain unlawful workplace conduct under Title VII or under certain state employment law statutes.

I am curious as to what crime, exactly, we're talking about here when we say "harassment." Stalking is a crime in many jurisdictions, and I can imagine a scenario where a paparazzo's actions could fit the elements of stalking.
posted by The World Famous at 9:23 AM on December 24, 2007


There was a recent documentary about paparazzi, on the CBC. It's not necessarily the harassment that it seems. Some celebrities (Paris in this particular segment) will coordinate their schedules with them personally in advance, so the photographers know when and where they can seem intrusive, and when they're not wanted. Maybe it's different when the celebrity is famous for actually doing something, but I doubt it. Willnot's answer is probably the most applicable.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 9:25 AM on December 24, 2007


@The World Famous:
I guess I'm talking the more general form of harassment, or "stalking", but essentially I'm talking about the unauthorized and unwanted behaviors against a person. If I was walking down the street and you kept following me wherever I went, talking at me non-stop and basically disrupting my day, don't I have a legal right to have you not do that to me?

@Chuckles:
It seems to me the "scheduling" makes the most sense, similar to calling a Press Conference, when you're ready to make a public appearance and offer that out. I just find it puzzling that people who do not invite this (e.g. Julia Roberts' recent stint with the paparazzi) can't put an end to it. It seems extremely disruptive.
posted by miasma at 9:44 AM on December 24, 2007


If I was walking down the street and you kept following me wherever I went, talking at me non-stop and basically disrupting my day, don't I have a legal right to have you not do that to me?

I don't think so. As long as you aren't on private property and they aren't touching you or threatening you, the non-stop disruptive talkers have rights too.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:58 AM on December 24, 2007


The paparazzi are pretty savvy about what the law is. They're also extremely savvy about when the law can be ignored. Individually they're likely to be well-behaved, but as a group, they can be quite monstrous, because they know, even if the cops were called on them, most police don't have any way (or even inclination) to arrest 60 photogs who may then all simultaneously file suits claiming free speech has been violated.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:00 AM on December 24, 2007


Some celebrities (Paris in this particular segment) will coordinate their schedules with them personally in advance, so the photographers know when and where they can seem intrusive, and when they're not wanted

Yes, as someone who "studies" enough celebrity blogs on a daily basis to see patterns, it is easy to see when a celebrity is courting the paparazzi and when they aren't. Nicole Ritchie was photographed almost daily for quite some time, until the period when it was rumored she was in the early stages of her pregnancy, and then she was not photographed for weeks and weeks.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:17 AM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


In the EU, courts basically have to balance art.8 (respect to private life) with art.10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. I think the trend has been to expand what counts as private life so as to protect "celebrities" - e.g. Campbell v MGN Ltd, and more recently von Hannover v Germany. However, courts recognise that "private" events can come into the commercial sphere - e.g. Douglas v Hello!, so that selling your wedding photos to a magazine means that you can't claim protection under art.8 if paparazzi get photos as well. The test now is whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy (in the UK at least - implementation/interpretation of the ECHR can differ country-to-country). Also, in the UK it's interesting to see how the law of confidence has evolved with the HRA 1998 to now incorporate privacy and freedom of expression.
posted by djgh at 11:58 AM on December 24, 2007


Just a guess, but I suspect it's probably important to note that the paparazzi aren't a coherent group - laws in general can target individuals, or institutions that employ individuals, but often can't touch people for the behaviour of a vague group that they are part of. Most of the time, while the group as a whole may well be behaving in an harassing manner, no individual is doing anything actionable, and because many paps are freelancers, they're not there on the orders of a specific employer against whom action could be taken.
posted by flashboy at 12:20 PM on December 24, 2007


Those kinds of paparazzi are a fairly new thing, in the last 5 years or so agencies like X17 have made the numbers jump from a dozen or so to hundreds of working photographers. A lot of it has to do with digital media and the internet making it less costly to shoot thousands of pictures and distribute them.

My guess is that evantually some new laws will come out of it but at the moment I think they are stuck going after individual photographers (many of who are felons, wanted on warrants or illegal immigrants) or waiting and suing them when they really know they'll win.

Personally I think that the legislation will come from businesses, cities etc who have to deal with clogged streets, car chases down PCH and answer 911 calls from Britney Spears etc etc. They are becoming a public hazard in parts of LA.
posted by fshgrl at 1:37 PM on December 24, 2007


Sometimes it is.

Link is to a case in which Jackie Onassis sued a photographer and won a ruling stating that a public figure still has a right to a private physical space, even when in public. Key quote: "[Defendant] sets up the First Amendment as a wall of immunity protecting newsmen from any liability for their conduct while gathering news. There is no such scope to the First Amendment right. Crimes and torts committed in news gathering are not protected."
posted by Partial Law at 1:42 PM on December 24, 2007


What do you mean by "harassment?" Though I am not a criminal defense lawyer or prosecutor, I am not aware of any jurisdiction in the U.S. where "harassment" is a criminal offense.

A friend of mine recently received a bunch of threatening phone calls, as did her family members. It was easy enough to figure out who did it, and this person was charged with harassment, which is a misdemeanor with a possible punishment of probation and whatever else the judge wants to tack on (in this case, counseling and a psych evaluation), at least in Texas.
posted by DMan at 2:03 PM on December 24, 2007


So were the paparazzi harassing Naomi Watts and Liev Schrieber and their new baby when she had to hide out the back of a shop to try and get away? I don't see those two as courting publicity at all. The treatment they received seemed way over the top.
posted by mooza at 2:40 PM on December 24, 2007


It seems to me the problem is similar to the issues involved in putting a stop to telemarketing. There are laws making it possible for someone to stop a specific invidual or organization from bothering him or her, but the act of creating blanket legislation that will restrict the rights of a large group of people is much more problematic.
posted by orange swan at 5:35 PM on December 24, 2007


Paris Hilton Inc.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 6:58 AM on December 26, 2007


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