New Paparazzi law in California could have a chilling effect on all photographers

On Tuesday, the California legislature passed AB2479 (pdf) with a 43-13 vote. Once it’s signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bill will expand existing paparazzi laws and impose fines up to $5,000 if any photographers interferes with anyone’s car.

On Tuesday, the California legislature passed AB2479 (pdf) with a 43-13 vote. Once it’s signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bill will expand existing paparazzi laws and impose fines up to $5,000 if any photographers interferes with anyone’s car. They could face a year in jail. Although intended to target paparazzi, the law does not apply just to paparazzi as that term is nearly impossible to define and indistinguishable from a photojournalist or an avid fan. The law does not only apply to celebrities but is applicable to anyone who may be photographed by anyone else. The California Newspaper Publishers Association and The California Broadcasters Association opposes AB2479 as it can potentially impose severe criminal penalties on a photojournalist who violates traffic laws with the intent to capture an image.

“Newspaper journalists and photographers travel as quickly as possible to fires, floods, crime,” the newspaper publishers said in a statement. “It is not inconceivable that a journalist or freelance photographer could be hauled  into court and subjected to these new charges and more extreme penalties. The chilling impact of this proposed language is palpable.”

Kate Moss At LAX
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This video of Kate Moss at LAX was used as an exhibit in a campaign to push the legislature to toughen the paparazzi laws. It is no doubt a dramatic and chilling video and most would agree some kind of restraint needs to be put in place. But the language of AB2479 is so vague and broad that it can potentially be used against journalists, fans at a concert, or even a concerned citizen shooting video of a police beating or arrest and then sells the video to TMZ.com. Using such broadly worded language to address a very small segment of rouge and aggressive photographers is like banning all nudity in libraries because a few people surf porn sites using library computers. While the Kate Moss encounter was no doubt unwelcomed, what most do not realize is that paparazzi photographers are often tipped off by the “victim celebrities” themselves in an effort to keep them in the public eye. In Los Angeles, paparazzi and celebrities have a symbiotic relationship. They both need each other to keep the publicity machine moving.