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Judge Rejects Streisand Privacy Suit

Photo on Web site did not intrude on actress' seclusion, ruling says.

December 04, 2003|Kenneth R. Weiss | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Wednesday effectively tossed out Barbra Streisand's invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against an environmental activist who posted an aerial photo of her bluff-top Malibu home on a Web site alongside 12,000 other pictures of the California coastline.

The singer and actress wanted the photo of her mansion removed and sought $10 million in damages for what she said was invasion of her privacy, use of a likeness of her property without authorization and violation of the state's anti-paparazzi law.

Judge Allan J. Goodman, in a tentative 46-page ruling, wrote that Streisand's privacy had not been invaded by Ken Adelman, a retired software engineer who has photographed almost all of the 1,100-mile California coastline to show its splendors and push for its protection.

Nor did Adelman act like a paparazzo or intrude upon her seclusion when he flew past taking pictures every few seconds from his helicopter at an altitude of about 500 feet, the judge ruled.

"This is not a circumstance in which a helicopter hovered over the plaintiff's backyard in order to photograph her in that location," the judge wrote. The one photo in question, he wrote, did not show Streisand or any other person. It is, he wrote, nothing more than a picture of her backyard, and the backyards of her neighbors by a passing aircraft and "none worthy of more than a passing glance."

"Air travel is a commonplace of modern society and recreational or purposeful flights over the California coastline are commonplace events that people who chose to live in the area must accommodate," Goodman wrote. "There was no serious invasion in this case...."

The judge also wrote that the California coastline, far from being a private place, is "an area of intense public interest and concern'' and characterized Streisand as "a voluntary public figure who speaks out on environmental issues and has a matter involving her coastal real property pending before a local planning agency." Streisand is seeking permission to expand one of the houses on her coastal estate.

The judge has 30 days to make corrections to his temporary ruling, but he indicated that he would grant Adelman's motion to dismiss the suit as frivolous, and order Streisand to pay Adelman's attorney's fees.

"It's a clean sweep," Adelman said. "We won on everything, including attorney's fees." He said he hadn't added up his legal bills, but estimated they exceed $100,000.

Streisand's attorney, John Gatti, called the ruling "legally flawed," and said his client was weighing legal options, including petitioning the judge for changes in the temporary ruling and later appealing the case to a higher court. But Richard Kendall, who represented Adelman, said any changes "would seem unlikely, given the length and thoroughness of the opinion and the length of time the judge put into this."

Streisand is not granting interviews to discuss the lawsuit, said her publicist, Dick Guttman.

On her Web site, www.bar brastreisand.com, she wrote earlier this year that she had never sued over the "lies" printed about her in books and articles, "but I guess now I've reached a different point in my life. It gets to the point where you have drawn a line in the sand and say, like the character Howard Beale in the movie 'Network,' 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.' "

She said she had "decided to fight back" because the photo was causing her and her husband, James Brolin, security problems.

"It should be said that this is also a Web site that is endangering homeland security by providing high definition, detailed photos of high security facilities," Streisand wrote. She did not elaborate.

Adelman for the past two years has been working to complete what he calls the California Coastal Records Project, a database of photographs of the California coastline to show off its beauty and to highlight man-made threats such as illegal seawalls and intrusive development.

Adelman and his lawyers argue that the photograph of Point Dume, which includes the homes of Streisand and her neighbors, does not pose a security risk to her. They point out that a number of celebrity-oriented Web sites show far more detailed pictures of her home.

Adelman said that before Streisand filed her suit May 20, only a few dozen people had noticed her house among the 12,700 photos posted on www.califor niacoastline.org -- which used to be a relatively obscure site used primary by coastal activists, researchers and government regulators.

But since Streisand filed suit, Adelman said, more than a half-million people have visited the site, specifically to gawk at her mansion perched on the edge of the bluff near Point Dume.

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