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The differences between paparazzi and press photographers are becoming increasingly vague.

Paparazzi is a plural term (paparazzo being the Italian singular form) for photographers who take unstaged and/or candid photograph of celebrities caught unaware. Paparazzi take photos of celebrities at moments when the subjects do not expect to be photographed, such as when they shop, walk through a city, eat at a restaurant, or swim or lie on the beach. This contrasts with press photography, or photojournalism, that is undertaken at press conferences, red carpet affairs and other events where there is an expectation and desire that the subjects will be photographed.

Paparazzi tend to be independent contractors unaffiliated with a mainstream media organization. As the lines between celebrity news and hard news become blurred by the major news agencies, the differences between a paparazzo and photojournalist are increasingly difficult to distinguish.


Paparazzi in 1932
The word "paparazzi" is an eponym originating in the 1960 film La dolce vita directed by Federico Fellini. One of the characters in the film is a news photographer named Paparazzo (played by Walter Santesso). In his book Word and Phrase Origins, Robert Hendrickson writes that Fellini took the name from an Italian dialect that describes a particularly annoying noise, that of a buzzing mosquito. In his school days, Fellini (Heh Fellini) remembered a boy who was nicknamed "Paparazzo" (Mosquito), because of his fast talking and consonant blurs (unknown), a name Fellini later applied to the fictional character in La dolce vita. This version of the word's origin has been strongly contested. For example, in an interview with Fellini's screenwriter Ennio Flaiano, he said the name came from a southern Italy travel narrative by Victorian writer George Gissing, "By the Ionian Sea." The book, published in 1901, gives the name of a hotel proprietor, Signor Paparazzo. He further states that either Fellini or Flaiano opened the book at random, saw the name, and decided to use it for the photographer. This story is documented by a variety of Gissing scholars and in the book "A Sweet and Glorious Land: Revisiting the Ionian Sea" (St. Martin's Press, 2000) by John Keahey.

Legality of paparazzi

Paparazzi in 2004
Due to the reputation of paparazzi as a nuisance, some states and countries (particularly within Europe) restrict their activities by passing laws and curfews, and by staging events in which paparazzi are specifically allowed to take photographs. In Norwaymarker, Germanymarker and Francemarker, photographers need the permission of the people in their photographs in order for them to be released (see model release).

The presence of paparazzi is not always seen as vexatious; the arranger of an event may, in order to make the guests feel important, hire a number of actors who pretend they are paparazzi (so-called "faux-paparazzi").

Injunctions against paparazzi

An inquest jury investigated the paparazzi involvement in the death of Princess Dianamarker and her companion Dodi Fayed, who were killed in 1997 in a high-speed car chase in Parismarker, Francemarker, while being pursued by paparazzi. Although several paparazzi were briefly taken into custody, no one was convicted. The official inquests into the accident attributed the causes to the speed and manner of driving of the Mercedes, the speed and manner of driving of the following vehicles, and the impairment of the judgment of the Mercedes driver, Henri Paul, through alcohol.

In 1999, the Oriental Daily News of Hong Kong was found guilty of "scandalizing the court", an extremely rare criminal charge that the newspaper's conduct would undermine confidence in the administration of justice. The charge was brought after the newspaper had published abusive articles challenging the judiciary's integrity and accusing it of bias in a lawsuit the paper had instigated over a photo of a pregnant Faye Wong. The paper had also arranged for a "dog team" (slang for paparazzi in the Chinese language) to track a judge for 72 hours, to provide the judge with first-hand experience with what paparazzi do.

Time magazine's Style & Design special issue in 2005 ran a story entitled "Shooting Star", in which Mel Bouzad, one of the top paparazzi in Los Angelesmarker at the time, claimed to have made US$150,000 for a picture of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in Georgia after their breakup. "If I get a picture of Britney and her baby," Bouzad claimed, "I'll be able to buy a house in those hills (above Sunset Boulevard)." Paparazzi author Peter Howe told Time that "celebrities need a higher level of exposure than the rest of us so it is a two-way street. The celebrities manipulate."

In 2006, Daniela Cicarelli went through a scandal when a paparazzo caught video footage of her having sex with her boyfriend on a beach in Spainmarker, which was posted on YouTube. After fighting in the court, it was decided in her favor, causing YouTube to be blocked in Brazilmarker. This caused major havoc among Brazilians, including threatening a boycott against MTV unless Cicarelli was fired from the company. The block only lasted a few days, and Cicarelli did not get fired. The legal action backfired as the court decided she had no expectation of privacy by having sex in a public location.

The E! network program Celebrities Uncensored used often-confrontational footage of celebrities made by paparazzi.

In 2008, a paparazzo sued and lost his case against actor Keanu Reeves claiming that Reeves hit him with his car after he left his friend's house. The photographer also claimed that he was unable to work since the accident stating that his hand was permanently injured and asked the court for over $700,000 dollars in compensation. The photographer was privately investigated and filmed still working using the said injured hand and shown to have many inconsistencies in his story.

In the United Kingdommarker the actress Sienna Miller and singers Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen have won injunctions that prevent the paparazzi from following them and gathering outside their houses. Miller was awarded £53,000.


  1. Is Everyone a Journalist?, Tony Sonenshine, American Journalism Review, October 1997.
  2. Jury Verdict-Inquisition Forms Diana Princess of Wales and Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Moneim Al Fayed Coroner's Inquests into the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales and Mr. Dodi Al Fayed H. M. Coroner
  3. Have celebrities finally snapped? The Guardian May 4, 2009

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