Online gossip site TMZ.com's live Web cam, which has taken to streaming videos of celebrities dining at alfresco lunch spots, is starting to provoke some anger.
"I find it abhorrent and an invasion of privacy," said Richard Irving, co-founder of the Ivy restaurant on Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills, a longtime hangout for Hollywood celebrities and the photographers who follow them. "We've always had our share of paparazzi but this is much more invasive."
TMZ photographers recently began camping out for hours near about a dozen restaurants, hitting different ones on different days. The Ivy is a favored spot because it's easy to film over its low-slung white picket fence and to get good shots of celebrities eating lunch on the patio.
Unlike TMZ's television show, which typically features 30-second video clips of celebrities coming to and going from restaurants, bars and courthouses, TMZ's unflinching electronic eye near the restaurants streams live video for hours at a time.
There are state and federal privacy and property laws that can prevent the paparazzi from trespassing or using a telephoto lens to view private property, but the Ivy's cozy street-side patio makes for easy and legal views.
California's so-called "stalkerazzi" law, first enacted in 1998 and then amended in 2005, is designed to protect mostly celebrities from overly aggressive photographers or fans who crash into stars' cars or cause their famous prey to injure themselves.
But there has to be injury, or at least intent to harm, before the law can be enforced, said Patricia Mayer, entertainment attorney at Los Angeles-based Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.
Ivy employees have resorted to re-positioning the restaurant's large umbrellas along the patio's perimeter to try to shield guests from TMZ's video voyeurism.
TMZ executives refused to comment on the company's paparazzi-like tactics or its relationship with area restaurants.
The Web site wouldn't set up a permanent Web cam that could be damaged or stolen, so TMZ photographers roam the city day and night capturing celebrities and their entourages at such celebrity-favored eateries as Johnny Rockets on Melrose Avenue, Good Earth in Westwood and Pink's hot dog stand on La Brea Avenue.
Fame and frankfurters
Some like the attention.
Pink's, which has been a favorite of actors such as Danny DeVito and Laurence Fishburne, doesn't have any problem with being featured on TMZ, whose photographers stake the place out late at night to catch tipsy celebrities after an evening of bar hopping.
"I think that it's kinda cool," said Tom West, operations manager at the 65-year-old hot dog stand.
TMZ began using the Web cam feature on its Web site in October, when Britney Spears was fighting for visitation rights in court. At first, the Web cam was only used for about an hour every day but it's now on all day long. Last week it streamed video from Santa Monica Superior Court, where Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband, Prince Fritz von Anhalt, was on trial for allegedly assaulting a freelance photographer near the Ivy. The alleged assault was caught on video by TMZ.
Even before introducing its Web casting, TMZ.com was already the nation's No. 1 most visited entertainment Web site, with about 10 million unique visitors a month. When the Web cam feature was first made the centerpiece of TMZ's home page, traffic increased to more than 11 million visitors a month, according to ComScore Media Matrix.
But the Web cam glitter may be wearing off. ComScore recently reported that visits to TMZ.com had dropped off to about 9 million during February.
Publicist and author Michael Levine said the boredom factor could become significant.
"We're living in a type of society in which you have to keep upping the dosage," Levine said. "If the Web cam continues to make money, it will be on the site. But if people get bored with it, then it won't."
TMZ is a joint venture between AOL, Time Warner's online division, and TelePictures, one of its TV production units. The company has offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with about 100 employees who work on the Web site and TV show.
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