What You Need to Know About Paparazzi Drones

By Arthur Holland Michel and Dan Gettinger

On September 30, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that is aimed, at least in part, at preventing paparazzi from using  drones to snoop on celebrities. While the text of A.B. 2306 does not include the word “drone” or “UAV” (for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), it does clearly state that the acquisition of visual or audio material of a private residence “through the use of any device, regardless of whether there is a physical trespass” constitutes an invasion of privacy.

In the final bill, the term “any device” replaced “visual or auditory enhancing” device in the first draft of the legislation. This change ostensibly represents an attempt by the legislators to craft privacy protections that are not tailored to a specific technology.

Paparazzi are increasingly aware of the potential benefits of drone technology for their line of work. Meanwhile, celebrities worry about paparazzi drones someday following their every move. There are already numerous instances of paparazzi drone use, and a heated debated is already well underway. Instances of paparazzi drone use, and the attendant controversies, bills and debates, are set to become increasingly common.

This is what you should know about paparazzi drones:

    • In current U.S. law, a paparazzo is allowed to photograph a celebrity as long as they are in a public space and as long as the paparazzo does not engage in harassment, obstruction, and do not record “a personal or familial activity.”
    • According to Patrick J. Alach in Paparazzi and Privacy, press photographers are protected in the U.S. by the First Amendment; celebrities who challenge paparazzi in court often come up against constitutional protections for freedom of the press. In public spaces, a celebrity can have no expectation of privacy.
    • As A. Michael Froomkin and Zak Colangelo point out in Self-Defense Against Robots, a celebrity may not be able to invoke trespassing laws if a drone flies over their private property, so long as the drone is flying over a certain altitude.
    • In June 2013, South African filmmaker FC Hamman flew around the Medi Clinic Hospital in Pretoria where Nelson Mandela was being treated. (News24)
    • Later, in August, Swiss tabloid photographer Toto Marti buzzed over Tina Turner’s wedding in Switzerland on Lake Zurich. The aerial photos made the front covers of magazines across Europe. (Der Speigel)
    • In March of this year, 247paps.tv posted video footage of a Selena Gomez photoshoot that it took with a drone.
    • Three months later, on July 5, 2014, Miley Cyrus posted a video to Instagram of a drone that purportedly belonged to a paparazzo.
    • In an interview with TMZ in August, paparazzo Steve Ginsburg said that his agency–AKM-GSI–was using drones to get shots of celebrities.
    • Two days later, Kanye West expressed his fear that paparazzi could use a drone to photograph his daughter. “Wouldn’t you like to just teach your daughter how to swim without a drone flying?” (TMZ)
    • Assemblyman Ed Chau, Democrat from California’s 49th District and author of AB-2306 said in a statement on his website, “I applaud the governor for signing A.B. 2306, because it will ensure that our state’s invasion of privacy statute remains relevant even as technology continues to evolve.”
    • Paparazzi Reform Initiative, an advocacy and lobbying organization, was outspoken in support of A.B. 2306 and for stronger privacy protections for celebrities in California. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, PRI legal counsel Patrick J. Alach said that drones are “a huge concern, especially for public figures who want to have some privacy in their backyards.”
    • The National Press Photographers Association opposed A.B. 2306 for lacking specificity. “For the most part, these laws are written so overly broad and vague that they impede and infringe upon news gathering,” Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA, told the Los Angeles Times.
    • Frank Griffin, co-founder of photo agency Bauer-Griffin, told the Daily Mail, “We haven’t used drones yet – but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to.”

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