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Celebrities' Rights to Privacy: How Far Should the Paparazzi Be Allowed to Go?

By Nordhaus, Jamie E. | The Review of Litigation, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Celebrities' Rights to Privacy: How Far Should the Paparazzi Be Allowed to Go?


Nordhaus, Jamie E., The Review of Litigation


Introduction: The Paparazzi

The term "paparazzi" is defined as "a freelance photographer, esp. one who takes candid pictures of celebrities for publication."' The use of the term originated from the surname of such a photographer in the 1959 Federico Fellini film, La Dolce Vita.2 But the connotation that arises from the word "paparazzi" is much stronger than just that of freelance photographers of celebrities; it is that of annoying, persistent photographers who in essence stalk their celebrity victims and go to any length necessary to get the shot they desire.

The paparazzi tend to target celebrities who fascinate the public. The public's obsession further encourages the paparazzi in their pursuit and effectively endorses the paparazzi's invasive antics as accepted practice. It is only when harm or the near threat of harm occurs that the public becomes outraged enough to criticize the newsgathering techniques of the paparazzi.

The recent death of Princess Diana brought renewed attention to the media and its newsgathering techniques, particularly those of the paparazzi in their coverage of celebrities. Media attention to celebrities has resulted in a complete loss of privacy concerning both private and public issues for many celebrities. This loss is partially due to the status of celebrities as public figures, which subjects their everyday lives to more extensive scrutiny than the average citizen. The public encourages this intrusion into the lives of celebrities by their obsession with every bit of gossip that comes their way. The paparazzi fulfills this hunger by gathering the information that the public yearns to consume.

The techniques of the paparazzi are criticized as invading the privacy rights of celebrities. The difficulty that arises in the prosecution of the paparazzi is that their work generally occurs in public places where the right to privacy is greatly limited. This right of privacy is discussed in Part II. A correlative issue arises once the photographer publishes a photograph and, thus, invades the right to publicity. The right to publicity is discussed in Part III. Part IV presents the solution to the paparazzi intrusion based on Galella v. Onassis.3 Part V addresses legislative solutions that currently exist and new ones that are underway to protect the privacy rights of celebrities and other individuals from the paparazzi. Finally, Part VI concludes by suggesting that the Galella solution is indeed the appropriate way to reconcile the paparazzi problem.

II. The Right of Privacy

Although the Constitution makes no explicit mention of the right, the courts have recognized a constitutional right to privacy.4 Thomas Cooley first acknowledged this right as a right "to be let alone" in his treatise on torts.5 Justices Warren and Brandeis, in what has traditionally been seen as the first advocation for the protection of privacy rights, expanded on Cooley's idea and recognized the intrusive nature of newsgathering techniques into private lives in a very influential Harvard Law Review article entitled "The Right to Privacy. "6

The right of privacy has developed to protect against four main types of invasions: (1) intrusion into solitude, (2) public disclosure of private facts, (3) depiction in a false light, and (4) commercial exploitation of a person's name or likeness, also called appropriation.7

Although other areas of the law distinguish between public and private figures in determining the standard that applies for recovery,8 the right of privacy applies equally to public and private figures, at least in theory.9 In practice, celebrities as public figures tend to have a much harder time recovering for an invasion of privacy than private individuals. This discrepancy is a result of the narrow scope of matters that are considered private in the life of a celebrity.10

The preeminent case of a celebrity successfully restricting the techniques of the paparazzi through the use of the United States legal system involved Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

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Celebrities' Rights to Privacy: How Far Should the Paparazzi Be Allowed to Go?
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