California Lawmakers Consider Limits on Paparazzi Who Hound Celebrities’ Children

California lawmakers are weighing legislation that will put limits on photographers who harass children of celebrities as they capture shots for magazines, photo agencies and other media.

The measure is being opposed by press associations, as well as the MPAA, which say that it is written too broadly to survive First Amendment challenges.

Nevertheless, the bill received a P.R. boost last week when Halle Berry testified before the Assembly public safety committee, telling of her daughter’s fears of photographers leaping out in front of her as her mother drops her off for school. The bill is scheduled to go before the Assembly Judiciary Committee on August 11 or 12.

Legislation was passed in 1994 to address harassment of children of healthcare workers where abortion procedures were performed, and it has been applied to other controversial professions. The latest bill, authored by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Democrat, increases civil and criminal penalties but also adds to the definition of harassment to include “conduct occurring during the course of any actual or attempted recording” of a child’s image or voice, without parental consent, and while following or “lying in wait” to do so.

“I understand that there is a certain amount of my own privacy that I have to give up,” Berry said last week in Sacramento. “There’s a tradeoff. …However, when it comes to my child, and their fear of leaving their house and feeling they cannot move in the world in a safe way, that is when as a mother I have to step up for my rights as a woman.”

A legislative analysis prepared for the Assembly public safety committee said that the language aimed at photographers was “arguably unconstitutionally vague.” Melissa Patack, VP for state governmental affairs at the MPAA, said that existing laws, like those on constructive invasion of privacy and false imprisonment, addresses some of the same issues as the proposed bill. There is reason for their opposition, as media companies own celebrity magazine shows and other entities that report on Hollywood. Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., a member of the MPAA, owns the website TMZ, which relies heavily on paparazzi shots.

“In this modern era when every person with a phone is a photographer, we want to ensure that this bill does not encroach on the ability to snap a picture,” Patack said in testimony last week. “We want to ensure that it is aimed at the aggressive conduct. And we want to protect against lawsuits that will be brought against those who exercise important First Amendment rights.”

De Leon, however, said that “nothing in this measure prohibits anyone from taking a picture of a celebrity or his or her child. Nothing prohibits TMZ or a gaggle of paparazzi from taking any picture. It prevents them from physically harassing or intimidating a child. Those are two very distinct arguments.”

He said that Berry approached his office about the issue, but he had been mulling some sort of legislation following the case of Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD police officer who targeted and threatened officers and their families.The legislation also is designed to protect children of judges and others in professions that run into controversies.

In her case, Berry pointed to video of her return from Hawaii in April at LAX, where photographers surrounded her and her fiance, Olivier Martinez, holding her daughter. “Get away from the child!” Berry shouted at the horde at the time.

Some supporters indicated that language in the bill would be refined to balance First Amendment concerns.

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