The Prince versus the paparrazi

Celebrity, NakedLaw, News, Opinion, Privacy, Rights

This summer, the British Royal family endured yet another run-in with the infamous European paparazzi—a group again in the spotlight due to the 18th anniversary of Princess Diana’s tragic death. This time, the photographic target was 2-year old Prince George, the oldest son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate.

In July, the family attended a christening ceremony for their newest addition, Princess Charlotte, who was born in May of this year. Although many of the published photographs were taken from a tastefully distant angle, Kensington Palace has since launched a very public campaign against relentless paparazzi believed to be engaging in dangerous, illegal tactics to snap pics of the princely progeny, including:

  • Using a long-range lens to photograph mother and child in private play areas
  • Pursuing vehicles leaving the family home
  • Using children to lure Prince George into view of the camera lens
  • Hiding on private property adjacent to the family home

While certainly creepy, and something no parent would want to deal with, does the photographers’ conduct violate the law? Under American standards, which are somewhat more stringent than paparazzi laws abroad, much of this activity violates privacy and property rights. But where does the right to freely gather information end, and where does the right to be free from unwanted intrusion begin?

Paparazzi rights

In the United States, a certain level of legal protection for photographers exists, as the practice of taking pictures is considered akin to the constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech and expression. In general, a person has the right to snap a photograph of anyone or anything that— at the time the picture is taken—is present in a public area. A public area is considered anywhere a reasonable person would not expect to enjoy privacy. Obvious areas include sidewalks, courthouse steps, or public parks; as a result, celebrities and other public figures are generally not protected by privacy laws in these areas. However, once the individual retreats into a private building, awaiting vehicle, or any other area in which a reasonable person would expect to be left alone, the law shifts in favor of the target of the photographs and imposes possible criminal and civil sanctions on any photographer who crosses the line.

Privacy rights

As explained above, celebrities have a fundamental right to privacy when physically situated in a place wherein a reasonable person would expect to be left alone. This includes homes, backyards, swimming pools, rooftops, balconies, and driveways. Moreover, photographers cannot use the fact that they took the photographs from a public street corner as a defense, at least as long as the target had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her location when the photograph was taken.

Provided that reasonable expectation of privacy remains intact, the same concept holds true for any Hollywood investigator wishing to dig through a celebrity’s trash, mail, or personal belongings, However, the moment a celebrity places his or her trash on a public street, it becomes fair game for anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of the rubbish of the rich and famous.

Photographing children

Fortunately, there also exists a set of special laws aimed at protecting celebrity children from the throes of fame. On September 30, 2014, California enacted a paparazzi reform law, amended existing laws to protect kids attending school or visiting the doctor. Under California AB 1256, the California Privacy Bill expanded the definition of “personal and familial activities” (i.e., private time) to include “activities of children occurring at private and public schools, activities occurring at various medical facilities, and activities occurring where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists at other locations.” The law also created an anti-paparazzi buffer zone around “entrances and exits at specified facilities, including schools and medical facilities.”

Also in September 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown enhanced the criminal anti-stalking statute to include special language targeting aggressive photography of celebrity children for commercial purposes. Backed by testimony from power moms like Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner, the law creates a Class A misdemeanor out of any conduct involving “knowing and willful conduct directed at a specific child that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the child and that serves no legitimate purpose – and that includes recording an image or voice.”

The Windsors might want to see if they can get such language into their own laws soon, lest young George and Charlotte be forced to become the first Royal Hermits.

Photo courtesy of New York Magazine/Getty Images

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