About two weeks ago, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new law allowing civil lawsuits against media outlets that commission or publish illegally taken photographs. This should be interesting.
Because, you know, what the world needs now is more lawsuits.
Schwarzenegger, himself a celebrity, has approved a measure which states that the rights of a free press "to report details of an individual's private life must be weighed against the rights of the individual to enjoy liberty and privacy." That sounds reasonable… or does it?
Magazines and blogs (like this one) buy pictures of stars everyday; how are we to know if the snapper was over Lindsay Lohan's property line or not? What if you were fined for clicking on an illegally obtained photo? What if you went to buy ice cream, and later found out that the ice cream you bought was stolen, and you were being sued by a rich person for eating it?
As Dionne Searcy writes for the Wall Street Journal:
Some legal experts… question whether the California law is enforceable. In general, it remains legal for individuals to take photographs of other people, as long as the photo is snapped in a public place. In many cases, they add, it can be difficult to determine where a photo was taken after the fact.
In addition, there's a concern that celebrities are getting special treatment. Your house is on Google Street View; journalists have the right to pursue a story by knocking on your door or photographing you on the sidewalk if you are, say, a dry-cleaner ripping off customers, a lottery winner or a suspected terrorist.
But a measure okaying lawsuits is really saying: Celebs! Go ahead and sue. You have money! The snappers and blogs and magazines will be sorry they fucked with you.
Look, I'm not saying it's right to jump a hedge to get exclusive picture of someone's backyard wedding. Laws should not be broken. But taking a magazine or blog to court and fining them as much as $50,000 for not knowing that shot is illegal doesn't seem right either.