Paparazzi by Drone - Conclusion

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Paparazzi by Drone - Conclusion

Jun 22, 2016

Paparazzi by Drone on Private Property

Publicists routinely call the paparazzi to tell them where they'll be and when they'll be there. It isn't an accident that Kim Kardashian is always photographed in full makeup. Nor was it an accident that, in the same week, the paparazzi "caught" Britney, Paris and Lindsey getting out of their cars, sans underwear. The paparazzi were only too happy to give the three women the exposure they desired.

How did it come to this? Why do we need to know every detail about a celebrity's personal life? There was a time when the public was content to see celebs partying, shopping or just walking down the street.

Do paparazzi drones cross some magical privacy line? The California legislature thinks so. In 2015, California passed SB 142 that would have made it illegal to operate a drone "less than 350 feet above ground level within the airspace overlaying the real property" whether or not anyone's privacy was violated.

Governor Brown vetoed the bill, stating that "drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination" and that SB 142 "could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action."

Even without SB 142 there are still limits. The First Amendment does not give the paparazzi a license to trespass or intrude by electronic means. Further, California has laws that punish such conduct. For example, Civil Code section 1808.8 provides treble damages and fines up to $50,000 when a paparazzo knowingly enters on private property without permission or uses a telephoto lens to intrude on a celebrity when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Until we, as a society, stop living vicariously through others, we're going to continue to need the paparazzi. How else would we know who is dating whom, are they pregnant, do they want to get pregnant and are they breaking up?

When you hear the buzz of a drone, smile. It just might be TMZ.

This post originally appeared on

Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. The class covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.

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