Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

In defense of Justin Bieber

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 8:37 PM EDT, Wed May 30, 2012
 Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez watch the San Antonio Spurs play the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles.
Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez watch the San Antonio Spurs play the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Justin Bieber allegedly lashed out at a photographer trying to get pics of him and girlfriend
  • Dean Obeidallah says the issue is whether paparazzi should stalk celebs and their families
  • He asks: Why should paparazzi profit off images of celebrities without their consent?
  • Law should provide that celebs must give consent, with exceptions for news, he writes

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog "The Dean's Report" and co-director of the upcoming documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- "Justin Bieber accused of roughing up photographer." When I read this headline, my initial reaction was: Who would admit to being beaten up by Justin Bieber?

I think most of us would take that secret with us to our grave.

For those unfamiliar with Bieber -- if that's even possible -- he's an 18-year-old international pop sensation who stands at an imposing 5 feet 7 inches and probably weighs about 135 pounds. But on Sunday, Bieber was accused of channeling his inner Alec Baldwin, lashing out at a member of the paparazzi who was trying to snap some photos of him and his famous girlfriend, Selena Gomez, as the two exited a movie theater.

To me, however, the real issue is not this incident. I predict this matter will be quickly resolved, possibly with a transfer of funds to the photographer's bank account.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

The issue that truly needs to addressed is this the paparazzi's daily pursuit of celebrities as if they were contestants in "The Hunger Games." They stake out hotels, restaurants, schools, homes, trying to snap a photo of a celebrity or their families. The obvious reason is that the photographers sell these photos, and often for big bucks.

Did Bieber brawl with photographer?
Bieber accused of engaging in fight

But why should these photographers be allowed to profit off the images of celebrities without the celebrities' consent? If a corporation wants to use an image of celebrities in an advertising campaign, they must first obtain their approval and typically pay them a fee.

This is because our copyright laws provide that if you take a photo, you own the copyright to that picture. Consequently, members of the paparazzi who snap a photo, even over the objections of the person, are awarded the full bundle of rights afforded by the federal copyright laws, including the right to sell the photo for a profit.

This is simply wrong. Our nation's copyright laws were enacted to protect original works. One of the goals of the law is to foster creativity, so people will invest the skill and effort needed to create works to which they will own exclusive rights, such as books, paintings, music and movies.

No one can argue that people who snap a photo of George Clooney as he exits a Pinkberry eating strawberry frozen yogurt or, worse, hang around outside grammar schools taking photos of someone's children deserve the same legal protection as those who create a movie, music or other work of art.

Our laws should be revised so that the copyright owner would no longer be the photographer who took the photo. Instead, the owner should be the person whose appearance in the photo makes it valuable: the celebrity.

Let's be honest, media outlets aren't buying these photos from the paparazzi because of the photographer's great talent for lighting. It's because the photo contains an image of a celebrity. Why shouldn't the person giving the image its value own the rights to it?

Indeed, our legal system has long recognized that we all have a "right of publicity," which means that we each have the right to control the use of our name, image and likeness. And obviously, this is a bigger issue for well-known people because their images yield a monetary value. To me, the unauthorized taking of person's photo and selling it for profit is akin to stealing a valuable asset from that person.

This statutory revision would remove the financial incentive for the paparazzi to stalk celebrities, because the photos could not be sold or distributed to any third party without the celebrities' consent, with exceptions for occasions that are newsworthy, such as a court appearance or arrest. But walking down the street, going to the gym or taking your children to school should be off-limits.

The definition of "celebrity" and what constitutes a legitimate photograph would be defined by statute and the court decisions interpreting the law. Although this would create a different legal standard for celebrities versus private citizens, our legal system makes a similar distinction in defamation cases, holding public figures to a higher standard of proof than the average person.

I know some people have zero sympathy for stars. True, they have chosen this life, and there are certain consequences that accompany fame. And some have achieved fame with the least talent possible: I'm looking at you, cast of "The Jersey Shore."

But why should a talented singer, musician or actor be sentenced to a life with no privacy simply because of their success? Shouldn't we all have the right to a quiet meal with our family or the chance to walk our children to school without having cameras jammed into our kids' faces?

This doesn't put the paparazzi out of business. There will still be plenty of work taking photos of famous people who consent. Celebrities still need to be in the media and so do their projects.

It will mean only that in normal day-to-day situations, celebrities will be able to retain a shred of privacy and no longer have to worry about paparazzi chasing them as they go food shopping or trying to enjoy "date night," as in the case of the "mighty" Justin Bieber.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 6:48 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 4:49 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT