Attempts by celebrities to thwart paparazzi, using ‘laser shields’, could give photographers grounds for legal action, a leading media lawyer warns.

A report in yesterday’s Sunday Times stated that Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch, has installed an ‘anti-paparazzi shield’ on his largest yacht.

The report added: ‘Infrared lasers detect the electronic light sensors in nearby cameras, known as charge-coupled devices. When the system detects such a device, it fires a focused beam of light at the camera, disrupting its ability to record a digital image.

‘The beams can also be activated manually by security guards if they spot a photographer loitering.’

However, asked whether such action is legal, Rupert Grey, a lawyer at London-based Swan Turton, today told Amateur Photographer: ‘This sounds more like James Bond than the real world.

‘But assuming the Russian oligarch referred to has such a device, he would be well advised to take a look at the Torts Interference with Goods Act 1977 before he turns it on the British paparazzi: intermeddling with goods belonging to someone else, or altering their condition, is a trespass to goods and will entitle the photographer to claim compensation without having to prove loss – not that he/she will get much in the way of compensation unless they do [prove loss].

‘Collateral damage’

Grey added: ‘If I was advising the said celeb I would plead lawful justification i.e. invasion of privacy – which would raise the stakes a bit. I would also be worried that lasers cause collateral damage, both to the camera and/or the claimant’s health.’

Meanwhile, Jonathan Coad – also a solicitor at Swan Turton – said that if Abramovich or his partner are in a place regarded as ‘enjoying a reasonable expectation of privacy’, then they should be protected under the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) Code of Practice.

But he added: ‘The difficulty is, the status of the super yacht. Clearly it is private in the sense that you only get on it if invited. The problem is that the press will say there are no private places on the ocean, as anyone can see you if you are on the deck.

‘So far as I know it has not been tested, but if you use as an analogy [model] Elle McPherson’s successful complaint about photos on a private beach, I think a complaint about a shot from a yacht should succeed.’

However, he added that it is possible the PCC, which is self-regulated, may rule in the photographer’s favour anyway, spelling good news for the paparazzi.

The Sunday Times article asserts that celebrities have sought ways of avoiding the glare of paparazzi every since Princess Diana was ‘snapped in an amorous clinch with Dodi Fayed in a yacht off the French Riviera’.

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