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‘Britney Law’ Proposed in L.A.
February 11, 2008

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

The city of Los Angeles may soon be affording special protection to its celebrity population.

The L.A. City Council is considering an ordinance that would impose a 20-yard “personal safety bubble” around those public figures in the city who are construed by the law to be “paparazzi targets.”

L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine favors creating “public safety zones” around high-profile celebrities to protect them from the packs of paparazzi that continually pursue them.

The idea raises a host of thorny legal questions, most notably, the First Amendment right of the press to facilitate communication of information to the public.

Recent incidents surrounding Britney Spears served as a catalyst for the proposed law, particularly the manner in which Spears was treated prior to and following her hospitalization stay at UCLA. The singer’s ambulance literally had to be enclosed by a barrier of police cars and helicopters in order to fend off the stalkarazzi.

Zine correctly pointed out that these types of scenarios pose “a hazard to both celebrities and ordinary people.”

The fundamental question is, When can the public’s right to know be set aside for the public’s right to be secure?

Many celebrities are fed up with aggressive photographers, whose hyper-zealous conduct has escalated due to the huge amounts of cash at stake for select snapshots and video clips.

Society’s preoccupation with celebrities has fueled an explosion of magazines, tabloid shows, and Internet gossip sites, fueling the hunger for even more photos of celebrities.

The paparazzi profession, too, is a growth industry, with positions expanding into the freelance photog realm as well as the camera-armed militia arena.

If the proposed Britney Law is implemented, it will be the most stringent anti-paparazzi legislation of its kind to date. If a paparazzo crosses the 20-yard “personal safety bubble” without permission, the city will confiscate all profits from any resulting photograph.

In addition, the L.A. City Council is examining the idea of giving celebrities the opportunity to purchase licenses to obtain extra protection.

With so much money involved in the celebrity industry, it is difficult to say whether the proposed Britney Law, if enacted, would end up helping or harming celebrity circumstances. It is also difficult to predict whether it would ultimately be overturned by a court.

In classic legalese, that means “it all depends.”

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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