Saturday, August 17, 2013

In Defense of the Steven Tyler Act

Ironically, the so-called "Steven Tyler Act" needs a better press agent. It's really too bad the media (and the Legislature itself) decided to call it the Steven Tyler Act in the first place. Extremely wealthy people who own private jets, fly out to Maui and hang out at exclusive estates and homes aren't the most sympathetic folks.
But that doesn't mean the bill itself is a waste of time. These days, it's not hard to fall victim to invasions of privacy. With smartphones running rampant, a plaintiff doesn't need to be a celebrity at all. Could it perhaps be used by anyone who finds an embarrassing picture from the beach or the backyard on Facebook? I'd bet that no one would like a personal photograph or an awkward birthday photo to become an overnight Internet meme.
People are ridiculed, pranked and bullied relentlessly by others on the Internet. In some instances, it could easily be considered an invasion of privacy and actionable under the new bill.
I can't help but wonder about a very different Tyler. Remember Tyler Clementi? He was not a rock star or anybody who made a career out of being famous.
Clementi was a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey until his roommate secretly recorded him kissing another man in his room. After his roommate posted that footage on the Internet, Clementi tragically jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Arguably, Clementi's estate could have used something similar to the Steven Tyler Act to pursue punitive damages.
Despite the smirking and ridicule from the public, the state Senate has approved the bill with overwhelming support. Its fate now lies in the House.
So maybe when it gets there, the bill could be recast as a different kind of measure. Maybe it could get some good PR this time around and become an effective tool to stop online bullying and harassment. In that sense, all of us could become celebrities.
- March 8, 2013

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