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California law aims to discourage paparazzi

By The Associated Press, First Amendment Center Online
10.03.05

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Paparazzi who commit assault in pursuit of celebrity photographs could be hit with hefty civil penalties in California under a new law.

The law will allow victims of paparazzi assaults to file lawsuits seeking up to three times the damages they suffered. The plaintiffs could also ask for punitive damages and a court order requiring the photographer to give up any income earned from the pictures involved.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill on Sept. 30. It goes into effect Jan. 1.

Several celebrities have been involved in accidents while being pursued by photographers. In May, actress Lindsay Lohan suffered cuts and bruises after a photographer rammed his van into her car. The photographer faces charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

"This bill hits the paparazzi where it hurts — the wallet," said Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez, a Democrat, who proposed the measure. "Money is their motivation, so taking away their money will be the solution."

She said the bill would protect Hollywood stars as well as bystanders who might be injured in chases involving paparazzi.

Actress Scarlett Johansson had a minor crash in August while being followed by paparazzi, and actress Reese Witherspoon said she was chased by photographers who she believed were trying to force her off the road in April. No charges or injuries resulted from either case.

Schwarzenegger was involved in an incident in 1998 involving paparazzi who used their cars to surround the then-actor's vehicle as he and his wife picked up their child from school, boxing them in and then taking photographs.

The Reuters news agency reported that the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which opposed the bill, was disappointed.

CNPA general counsel Tom Newton told Reuters that any journalists sued under the new law would likely challenge it as unconstitutional because it treats them more harshly than other Californians.

"We think it exposes people engaged in First Amendment activities to penalties the rest of the public is not susceptible to," Newton told Reuters. "If it's used in a way that goes after one of my members, I suspect that constitutional issues will be raised in their defense."

According to the CNPA Web site, the new law creates "a new cause of action for an 'assault committed with the intent to capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of the plaintiff.'"


Update
New Calif. law aims to rein in aggressive paparazzi
Though measure is aimed at 'stalkerazzi,' it could have 'chilling effect' on news media, says attorney for newspaper publishers' group. 01.07.06

Related

Debate brews over balancing test between privacy and press rights

Meanwhile, experts say journalists must reconsider how they do their jobs or risk further restrictions. 12.29.99

Paparazzi become targets of criminal probe
Los Angeles D.A., police investigate allegations ranging from misdemeanors such as trespassing to more serious crimes like false imprisonment, conspiracy. 06.12.05

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