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Celebrity protection unnecessary, harmful

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By KEN PAULSON
First Amendment Center
It’s open season on paparazzi in celebrity-laden states as legislatures gear up to protect the rich and famous.

Most recently, the Hawaii legislature was so grateful that Aerosmith singer and American Idol judge Steven Tyler purchased a home on Maui that it named an anti-paparazzi bill after him.

“The legislature finds that sometimes the paparazzi go too far to disturb the peace and tranquility afforded celebrities who escape to Hawaii for a quiet life,” the state’s Steven Tyler Act notes.  “The purpose of this act is to encourage celebrities to visit and reside in our state by creating a civil cause of action for the constructive invasion of privacy.”

While no one can defend reckless and dangerous antics by photographers, this bill is astonishing in its scope.  

Someone can be sued for taking a photograph (or even planning to do so) while a celebrity is engaged in a “personal or familial activity with a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The bill doesn’t even limit invasive conduct to photographs, extending it to any effort to create a physical impression.  

In other words, this bill would extend liability for merely planning to shoot a photo — or even paint a picture — of a celebrity with his family at the zoo.

It is perhaps not surprising that the Steven Tyler Act is modeled after California legislation.

That law created special penalties for those who drove recklessly in pursuit of photographs of celebrities, and was first enforced against a photographer pursuing Justin Bieber on a freeway.  

A Superior Court judge dismissed the charges, saying the bill was overly broad and violated the First Amendment by targeting newsgathering.

There are already plenty of traffic laws that penalize speeding and reckless driving, whether pursuing  a pop star or simply rushing to the convenience store.

A journalist — including paparazzi — should get no special privileges, but also suffer no special penalties.

“Being a personality, no matter where we go, we get shots — it’s part of the dealio,” Tyler said recently.  “But when I’m in my own home, and I’m taking a shower or changing clothes or eating or spending Christmas with my children … it hurts.”

Tyler can relax.  

Anyone who enters his home or climbs into his shower can be arrested for trespass.  

Laws already on the books have that covered.

In a free society, news gatherers and fans alike can take photos of public figures and private citizens in public places.

They have to do that lawfully and without endangering others.

Celebrities have exactly the same rights as all citizens – and no more.  

Undermining the First Amendment to make your state more appealing to celebrity real estate prospects is truly living on the edge.

Ken Paulson is president and chief executive officer of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and in Washington, D.C. Previously, Paulson served as the editor and senior vice president/news of USA Today.