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Ashley’s Angle: Are drones a plague or a principle?

Ashley Hamilton, Malibu Resident
10:16 am PDT September 8, 2017

Imagine the sight and sound of a swarm of mechanized gnats, of invasive — and illegal (for now) — creatures from an electronics laboratory, not the larvae of so much summertime heat and humidity.

Imagine the shape of these insect-like devices, of these drones with their rotors and propellers, of these crafts with their cameras and various controls, as they make their way to Malibu, as they prey upon beachgoers and celebrities, as they pollute the air with noise and storm the sky like a thundercloud of approaching fury, as they drive the public mad and make privacy a source for mass consumption.

Imagine the paparazzi operating these drones from the comfort of their homes or cars.

Imagine the very real possibility of a reversal of California Assembly Bill 856 restricting the use of drones by the paparazzi. 

By creating a protected class of citizens based more on fame than fortune, by inviting generous interpretation from the courts and vigorous enforcement by the police, by potentially undermining the privacy it seeks to promote, this law does not answer a basic question: Who is a celebrity?

AB 856 never mentions that word, though the bill is the result of pressure from celebrities to prevent the use of drones.

How else to explain the bill’s selection of the Arts and Entertainment Fund as a beneficiary of a percentage of the fines paid for violation of AB 856?

The problems with this bill are threefold.

First, taking aerial shots of a public figure on a public beach is not (in my opinion) an invasion of privacy.

Notice I do not defend the moral rightness rather than the legal right to take these pictures, because I do not believe the First Amendment dissolves into nothingness – that it ceases to exist – in what, irony of ironies, some consider flyover country.

Secondly, miniaturization continues apace. 

That is, drones will become smaller and quieter, making it easier for the paparazzi to flout the law because it is almost impossible to stop what no one can see or hear. 

These drones will put to shame even the most talented prop masters, despite the ability of these artists — despite the gifts of one artist in particular — to transform old press camera flash battery packs into a hilt with a rod coated with the same retroreflector material used for highway signs.

In other words, these drones will have more force than the Force — or any other entity, including a lightsaber, from the Star Wars galaxy.

Thirdly, drones are safer than the alternative: A road race to outrun the paparazzi, at the risk of injury to life and limb, at the risk of a car accident or an automotive fatality.

Bear in mind, too, there are only so many pictures the paparazzi will take — and there are only so many pictures the tabloids will print and people will pay to see – until these pictures have no value.

Boredom from the public will do more to ground these drones than any judicial decree or diktat from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The paparazzi may never leave celebrities alone, but they may very well leave Malibu when celebrities leave the paparazzi alone and ignore them.

Ashley’s Angle is a monthly column from Malibu resident Ashley Hamilton. Hamilton is an artist and father who seeks to express the truth through his work. Ashley’s Angle will cover issues and politics which are relevant to the Malibu community at large. The opinions of this column are that of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect those of The Malibu Surfside News.