On this site and in my classes, we have talked a lot about the changes inpolitics and other parts of life and labor that easy Internet access, online social-interactive media, and the cell phone (with its picture, sound and video capture and upload capabilities) have occasioned. In politics, we know that the personal appearance is different because a politician never knows who in the audience might get them on video or record them in some other way and YouTube a quote or a rant or just a funny picture. Celebrities of other kinds–like athletes and entertainers–have always faced the dilemma of being “outed” while in private by paparazzi. Now in the same way that everyone is a potential journalist, everyone is also a potential paparazzo. What are the privacy rights of individuals anywhere–OUR GEOPRIVACY? Should ordinary fans or witnesses know or care? At a minimum, it is pretty clear that if a celebrity like, say, a star of a TV show, appears in a public venue, the public has a perfect right to and shouldn’t feel any ethical qualms about capturing him/her for wider viewing.

And let’s face it, celebrities thrive on celebrity and are using the new tech (like Twitter) to show off their own backstage lives (or parts of them).

Here is a case study: Below is the narrative description by one of my students, who encountered “Darryl” (actor Craig Robinson) from NBC’s The Office. The ethical nuance here is that Mr. Robinson was not quietly having a drink in a corner but performing for the crowd, so there is even less of a problem with deciding to “YouTube” him.


At the end of December break I went to a bar called Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar (Dallas, TX). A dueling piano bar is when two pianists sit at pianos that face each other as they play song requests from the audience. My friends and I were about to leave when we heard commotion and people running in our direction. I looked up from my friends and saw Darryl from The Office on stage. He showed up out of nowhere and began singing on one of the pianos. Everybody began taking pictures and recording him on their cameras and cell phones. It was really exciting to see somebody famous right before my eyes. My friend was taking pictures on her blackberry, and sent me an email instantly with one of the pictures she had taken. Darryl then played the opening song from The Office and disappeared as fast as he had appeared.

Originally posted February 23, 2009 at PolicyByBlog

One Comment

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    Original Reader Comments (29)

    I believe that everyone is entitled to his or her privacy, and shouldn’t have to worry about having their picture being taken. But, because the world is so technologically advanced, this is becoming an issue. If you are in your home, you definitely shouldn’t feel the need to constantly look over your shoulder for flashing cameras or cell phones. If you are in public, then it’s a different story. It would suck to be a celebrity and have to always deal with the paparazzi, but it comes with the perks of the job. If you are like “Darryl”, and set yourself up for the attention, than you cant complain when you’re posted all over You Tube. If your like Brad Pitt, and have to hide your kids form flashing cameras, well that’s just sad. I think it’s definitely an ethical issue that only the person with the camera or call phone can solve. I think celebrities should get more privacy, but there is really nothing legally wrong with what the paparazzi is doing. Maybe laws could be implemented to at least help those constantly in the limelight.
    February 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjthought87

    I agree that when you’re in the privacy of your own home, everyone has the right to protect that privacy. I also think that when celebrities are doing private things in public-like going out to dinner-they have the right to their privacy as well. We may not be celebrities, but surely if we were at a bar or nice restaurant we would not want people documenting what we eat, drink, etc.

    But, in this case,”Darryl” was obviously hungry for attention and wanted people looking at him, taking pictures to tell their friends they saw him at a bar. Situations like this offer no room for complaints. If you draw attention to yourself in a public place, people can take all the pictures and videos that they want. If I saw some really weird person or someone ridiculously drunk and hilarious at a bar, there is a good chance I might take a video on my phone. Sad, but if it’s funny, why not?
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDover

    In Darryl’s case there isn’t really any ethical issues surrounding taking a picture of him. While a little intrusive maybe, he wasn’t trying to protect his privacy in any way. As for other celebrities, I think it’s part of their job. I mean I have some sympathy for Brit Brit when she’s sunbathing naked in her backyard, but even then should her privacy be protected? You can sunbathe with clothes on.

    And like we talked about in class politicians and celebrities can use the “everyone’s a paparazzo” scheme to their advantage.
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermegs527

    Celebrities know that they are going to be the target of picture taking and gossip once they reach stardom. I believe they should have very little expectations of privacy, given the fact that they chose that lifestyle. I understand how being stalked 24/7 can be annoying, but there is always a tradeoff…they make a lot of money. Darryl singing at a piano bar and people taking pictures of hims poses no ethical issues. Here is a celebrity out in the open, in public chosen to be noticed. Everyone there has the right to record and take pictures of him with no consequences. If you are a private person, don’t be a celebrity.
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdaslonka

    Everyone deserves privacy, but not when you put yourself before the public is such an obvious way. Clearly he wasn’t looking to be left alone on this occasion. I agree that the photgraphers have gotten out of hand but I agree with daslonka–you shouldn’t be a celebrity if you can’t take all that comes with the title.
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWMJ220

    I think everyone has their right to privacy in private settings. When in public, the situation is different. With so many people having camera phones, it is hard to regulate who is taking photos and who isn’t. If celebs want to be out in the public and not be noticed, I suggest a disguse. I admire how Darryl (From The Office) decided to perform while he was out. He could have been hiding out somewhere enjoying the show and then realized people were going to recognize him anyway, so he might as well make a scene. This allowd for anyone to take his picture without feeling akward. I really don’t think there is anyway to regulate poparazzi, or regualr citizens in public places.
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterK523

    When in public a celebrity, politician, athlete, etc. should be conscious that someone, somewhere is most likely taking his or her picture. As long as celebrities are out in public, people will be taking pictures of them even if it is as simple as going to the grocery store or walking their dog. Although obnoxious and sometimes frightening (depending on your celebrity status) I believe this is part of life people in the public eye must deal with to have fame and notoriety. I do not agree with photographing someone while running errands, but I also do not think it is unethical. If the general public wasn’t interested, the pictures wouldn’t be taken. I think the line is crossed, however, when the a person’s home life and privacy is breached. If a celebrity wants to play the piano in a public place then he obviously doesn’t have qualms with being photographed.
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersenior.09

    In public, no one is entitled to their own privacy. I recently had a friend get arrested for driving under the influence and there happened to be a camera guy nearby. The journalist snapped the photo, and my friend was on the cover of the local newspaper the very next day. Was he entitled to any privacy? No, because once you leave the privacy of your home, you are responsible for whatever actions you decide to take.
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersunshine

    With the toys and gadgets we have these days it is easy for anyone to become a celebrity, whether they want to or not. Take for example “david after dentist,” this 8 year old boy recieved instant youtube fame after his father recorded and posted a video of his son high as a kite after visiting the dentist. It’s not that people aren’t “safe” in public, it’s that people like and crave attention. And now anyone with a picture phone is able to expose anybody else to the world by clicking a couple of bottons.
    As for “Darryl” he knew what he was doing. He wanted the publicity and he took advantage of the situation. Ethics have been trampled by society’s ever growing obsession with fame.
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfabi.f.babi

    Well, I think its pretty obvious that he not only wanted the attention of being a celebrity but he also wanted to make sure that everyone knew who he was, in case there was any doubt. In a situation like this I would have no hesitations of putting this video clip of him performing on the internet. I think the ethical concerns of everyone being a paparazzi and whether or not footage/pictures are distributed are completely dependent on the situation. Publishing pictures of a celebrity performing at a crowded bar for attention is quite different than people putting photos of intimate family moments or something more private online.
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDuke44

    Although the technology we face today is more advanced than ever before, people have been facing ethical issues for thousands of years. The “should I or shouldn’t I” quandry has always plagued the human race. I think the best way to decide ethical dilemmas like this one (at least as a non-journalist) is just by asking yourself, “would I want a picture of me doing this for everyone to see?” Now, if “Darryl” was banging out “The Office” theme song at a deuling piano bar, he was probably not afraid of a few phone pics. However, if he was obviously trying to be inconspicuous and have a quiet dinner with a friend, it would be a different issue. Looking at this issue as a journalist poses different ethical problems, because there is the question of what is private, and what the public has a right to know. As far as this goes, I’m not sure I know yet what the protocol should be.
    February 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSongbomb21

    I agree with Songbomb21: Everyone should ask themselves, when faced with this ethical dilemma, “would I want a picture of me doing this for everyone to see?” What happened to the value and the weight of the Golden Rule, “Do onto others as you would wish them do onto you.” Obviously, if I were on my private property or on a family outing I would not want or suggest that I was ready for a photo-shoot. Has the paparazzi forgotten the Golden Rule? Assuming that the paparazzi get large checks for their snap shots, it is sad that all ethical boundaries get thrown out the window for a chance to make money.

    On the other hand, Mr. Robinson was calling out for attention and wanted the hype around his presence. Therefore, there is no ethical dilemma in capturing his moment behind the piano.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKUkris1

    I believe that everyone has a right to privacy, but in the case of Darryl, I don’t think it’s a problem to snap his picture/record him. He was on stage performing for the crowd, so naturally the crowd is going to want to take pictures. There is no ethical issue here, I believe Darryl probably wanted the attention, otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten on stage.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteraimsk09

    Regardless of your celebrity status, I think everyone deserves privacy. Clearly Craig Robinson wasn’t looking for privacy and probably wanted a little attention thrown his way. However, I think it is ridiculous that some celebrities can’t leave their homes without being surrounded by swarms of papparzzi. Celebrities are just regular people with a more interesting job. Just because they won a role on TV or in film doesn’t mean they signed up to be stalked and followed at all hours of the day. However, I think the bigger issue is Americans’ fascination with celebrities. If we didn’t express an interest in their private lives, papparrazi would be out of a job.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJayhawk411

    Although I am sure it is not easy being a celebrity when there are camera’s constantly capturing every embarassing moment, there are laws in place to protect people from libel, and harassment. But sometimes it doesn’t seem like celebrities get the privacy they deserve, or need. In this case Darryl was clearly looking for attention, and cannot complain, because he obviously got it. But when he wants his privacy, Darryl is just as entitled to it as the average joe.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdugarte

    I think that in many ways, famous people thrive on the attention that their fans give them. When they are out in public it is only natural for a fan to want an autograph or take a picture. Although I think a fine line should be drawn when the star for instance is in the bathroom looking for privacy, rather then at a bar looking for attention. Although I would assume that Darryl from The Office isn’t getting as much fan attention as lets say Brittany Spears, so maybe he enjoys the attention in ways that Brittany does not. I think that as US citizens of a free country it is our choice if we want to take a photo of a star or not when spotted. They will make it known if they want their privacy, and that is when it needs to be respected.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersugar086

    At this day in age it almost seems that privacy is extinct. People can simply google you and find out anything they want to know. I feel that everyone has the right to privacy; however, it is up to the individual to be proactive about it. If they want to keep their life private they need to take the proper steps to do so, such as not joining social networking sites. People that put themselves in the public eyes such as politicians of actors need to be aware of the fact that they have given up their privacy and they should be aware of that and act accordingly.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbuster

    For public figures like “Darryl,” they must be aware of the threats that all the new social media technology can have on their career. In this case, a picture floating around the internet of Darryl playing a piano isn’t going to cause any harm. But, if he was doing something else, say smoking marijuana (**cough Michael Phelps cough**) it could have a negative impact on his career. Privacy for everyone, not just public figures, is becoming more and more scarce. However, public figures are certainly the ones with the most to lose.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwachashi

    Everyone is a potential paparazzo, but I really think it comes down to human decency. Everybody deserves privacy in their personal lives. Even though actors and musicians put their professional lives out there for everyone to see, it doesn’t mean they are asking for the public to share in their lives outside of work. People are nosey, and it is sad that the public escapes their own lives by “ruining” others. Because let’s face it, 75% of the time, the result of paparazzo interfering in their lives is the start of a multitude of rumors that can harm their lives.

    In response to the comment about celebrities WANTING their lives out there by using Twitter and other social networking sites, I don’t completely agree with this. After reading several stories on the use of Twitter by celebrities, and following several for my Internet Communications class, their purpose for frequently updating their own Twitter profiles is to keep the paparazzo from feeling like they control their lives. If people are SO interested in their lives, they want them to have access to their true lives and not the lies the paparazzo forms to entertain people. These celebrities post what they are doing and pictures ocassionally while doing it. Again, people can choose to follow them and know their true lives, or follow the rumors spread by paparazzo on the streets.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterinot1987

    Do unto others as you want done to you. Its a simple ethical motto made famous by Bambi. However, I feel that that simple guideline hits home on this issue. I do not feel that it is ethical to take pictures of celebrities who are just trying to live their lives out of the lime light.I would not want people taking random pictures of me while I am out and about living my life. In this specific case, it appears that Darryl wanted this attention and put himself up on stages. So, in his case, it is perfectly okay to take a picture. If he was out to dinner with his family I do not think that it would be ok to take his picture.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergretzky99

    I still don’t know how I feel about this topic. I can go either way dependingon the situation. When it comes to Michael Phelps situation, I understand that he is a heroic celebrity to many swimmers and young boys, but I feel like he was just doing what other kids his age do. I feel like if he wanted to smoke some weed, then so be it! He didn’t know that cameras would be there to capture the moment. On the other hand, I feel like the paparazzi comes along with the idea of being a celebrity.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLMP316

    Once you become a celebrity you lose the right to your privacy. Paparazzi is part of the business you chose. If you’d like it to stop, then stop being a celebrity. It seems apparent that Darryl form the office is striving for celebrity status that he doesn’t quite have. Getting up and singing and playing a piano is not what a normal celebrity does. It sucks that the kids of celebrities are immersed into this scene but that’s what Brad Pitt signed up for.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMikeJohn1013

    Celebrities all too often complain about the paparazzi following them and capturing their every moves;however, in such cases like these do we have to wonder do they really hate media attention or are they pretending? I absolutely think that taking pictures of someone in the privacy of their own home is ridiculous, he or she is not trying to be in the public eye;therefore his or her actions should be protected, but with technology today that is just not possible anymore. You have to know that every thing you do there is a possibility that someone is “watching” and they have the ability to publicly announce your whereabouts
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbosco

    I think with everyone as a potential journalist, everyone needs to keep in mind under what settings journalists have always gotten their stories. Interviews have to be prepared. So today, with the rise of portable technology that has the capability to give information to mass amounts of people, we need to be careful to respect those that are normally in the public eye. Just because they are a celebrity does not mean they want someone updating the public about their every move. However, in this case it seems fine. Daryll is well aware of what kind of reaction was going to happen after he played the piano, and was accepting of it because he was not wanting to stay private at that time. We need to be cautious to respect people and understand their boundaries.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJacquelann

    I feel for celebrities, I really do. I think everyone would agree that constantly running away from cameras or having to disguise yourself every time you left the house would become annoying. But that’s why I’m not a celebrity nor would I ever try to become one. If you don’t want the attention don’t put yourself in the public eye.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCiaoBella

    If someone,anyone, is willing to deliberately put him/herself in a spotlight then they have less assumed privacy. I think that, legally, anyone in a public place does not have a right to privacy. The sentiment toward these privacy laws (or lack of) could easily change. The idea of others seeing you in a public place is much different than the very real possibility of someone videotaping you in a public place and broadcasting it to millions. Technology tests the laws, pushing them past limits to which they were not originally applied. As for a celebrity of Darryl’s stature…he never had this assumed privacy with or without technology.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdude.hey

    The issue of celebrity privacy is an interesting moral delima. I do believe that always being in the public eye is part of putting yourself out there as a celebrity. But I also believe that each person has a right to keeping their personal lives private. When celebrities are out and about in the public eye, such as the case with Craig Robinson, the paparazzi has every right to snap their camera and try to capture the next cover of People Magazine. Stalking famous individuals by waiting outside their house, or following their every move I believe, is taking this too far. But, as stated before, some of these celebrities put themselves out there. If you play your hit TV show’s theme song while at a bar, you deserve every flash from the camera.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkew27

    Anyone who steps into the limelight for their 15 seconds or longer knows how the rules of the fame have changed with Web 2.0 and portable capturing devices such as camera phones. When Daryl appeared of nowhere to take the stage, he knew right away to expect cell phones and digital cameras flashing all around him. When he started playing that piano in front of a large crowd, he was not private life Daryl but instead entertainer Daryl. Now I’ve seen cases where a celebrity does karaoke and gets recorded (ala Shaq’s “rap” against Kobe), but still the celebrity’s privacy is just at risk of being recorded or photographed as an average guy or gal who bombs on stage. In both situations, the average person and the celebrity are on stage in front of a small cross-section of the public and should know ahead of time that they might wind up on YouTube. Whether wowing a crowd like Daryl or making an ass of yourself like Shaq, take comfort in knowing that everyone is fair game.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBananagrams

    In the case of Darryl, there really isn’t an ethical issue. He put himself before a crowd, making him no longer a private figure. I do not find it ethical however if say, the LJ World, takes a picture of a random person on the street then does a story about a controversial topic that makes it look like the person supports the controversial issue. In instances such as that permission should be given by the subject. There is so much gray area with this issue that it’s hard to define what citizens control and what is public.
    February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily87

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