December 30, 2009

The Malibu Times: New year laws include anti-paparazzi statute

The year 2010 kicks off with several new state laws that go into effect Jan. 1, including anti-paparazzi legislation that will affect media outlets and publishers.

Perhaps the most pertinent to Malibu, however, is the new law that will allow civil lawsuits to be filed against any media outlet that publishes an illegally taken photo.

The law imposes fines from $5,000 to $50,000 on a publisher who causes or condones a paparazzo to engage in offensive behavior?such as persistent following, chasing or trespassing?while in pursuit of photos or video footage of celebrities. The law will heavily affect media outlets seeking first-time publication rights.

Historically, only a paparazzo who took a photo would be held accountable and the publication that published the photo would not be liable.

Supporters of the new law, which include many Malibu residents and some city officials, have long called paparazzi efforts to capture celebrity photos a threat to public safety and an invasion of privacy. But oppositionists, which include the California Newspapers Publishers Association and various celebrity gossip Web sites and TV shows, have expressed that the law does a poor job at balancing the issue with First Amendment rights.

Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, who earlier this year said many of her friends whose children attend Malibu public schools have been mistaken for celebrities and harassed by paparazzi via car chase, lauds the new law.

?I think it gives an added layer of protection and gives an opportunity for anyone whose privacy is invaded to not only pursue paparazzi but publishers as well,? Conley Ulich said Tuesday in a phone interview. ?You get to go where the deep pockets are, and this will hopefully give incentive to publishers to not buy illegally obtained photographs.?

The issue received further attention through a scuffle between paparazzi and local surfers in June 2008, when a pack of photographers staked out actor Matthew McConaughey as he surfed at Little Dume Beach. Malibu residents Skylar Peak and Philip ?John? Hildebrand have each charged with one count of misdemeanor battery for their alleged involvement in the beating of French paparazzo Rachid Aitmbareck during the altercation.

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