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The risky business of celebrity photography: are paparazzi laws tough enough?

Justin Bieber attends the 2012 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory on November 7, 2012 in New York City.
Justin Bieber attends the 2012 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory on November 7, 2012 in New York City.
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

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For decades, paparazzi have plagued the rich and famous and jeopardized the lives of not-so-famous bystanders and motorists with high-speed chases and reckless driving, all in risky pursuit of that million-dollar shot.  This week, photographer Chris Guerra was struck and killed by a car while illegally crossing a street after stopping to nab a shot of Justin Bieber’s car.  

The young star’s Ferrari had been pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer; as it turns out, Bieber was not even in the car, which was being driven by a friend. The incident sparked renewed calls for a tightening of regulations on dangerous paparazzi activity. Bieber issued a statement saying that  “hopefully this tragedy will finally inspire meaningful legislation and whatever other necessary steps to protect the lives and safety of celebrities, police officers, innocent public bystanders, and the photographers themselves."

 Such legislation does exist: a 2010 California law makes reckless driving in pursuit of celebrity photos a separate crime with a 6-month jail term and a $2,500 fine. That law was first challenged in 2011, ironically, in the case of a photographer who was after a picture of Bieber. The case was thrown out by the judge and is currently on appeal after the judge concluded that the law violated First Amendment rights and could have stifling repercussions for news gatherers, wedding photographers and others.  

This latest incident, while tragic, didn’t involve dangerous driving; Guerra was on foot when he was killed. Does it still underscore the need for tougher laws?  

Are entertainers, their publicity machines and the star-hungry tabloids somehow complicit?  In the age of Instagram, anybody with an iPhone can shoot for the stars if they’re in the right place at the right time.  So why do paparazzi still go to such dangerous lengths?


Dennis Zine, city councilman representing Los Angeles’ 3rd district, which includes the communities of Canoga Park, Reseda, Tarzana, Winnetka and Woodland Hills.

David S. Kestenbaum,
Attorney with Kestenbaum, Eisner and Gorin, LLP