They are the scourge of almost everyone in the public eye: the undercover operatives whose shadowy presence is the ultimate badge of celebrity. Now, after yet another summer in which barely a day has passed without at least one lurid tabloid picture exclusive, the paparazzi could finally be about to meet their match.
Harry Potter author J K Rowling has become the latest high-profile name to threaten action over photos taken without her knowledge that have been paraded in front of the nation. Ms Rowling has complained to the Press Complaints Commission over three photos featuring her eight-year-old daughter on holiday with her in Mauritius that appeared in this week's OK! magazine.
Her decision came as new signs emerged that wealthy stars are increasingly prepared to bypass the commission and head straight for the courts in the hope of seeking damages under the UK's new privacy laws. Just weeks after newsreader Anna Ford failed to persuade the High Court that her "expectation of privacy" had been infringed by photos showing her reclining on a public beach, others were equipping their armouries for their own legal jousts.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell has confirmed she will see The Mirror in the High Court next February over photographs showing her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. And socialite Ben Elliot is suing The People over a photograph that wrongly identified him as the mystery naked man with Jade Jagger on a beach in Ibiza.
Meanwhile, in a sign that editors are not about to raise the white flag yet, a source close to Express Newspapers has revealed it will take actress Amanda Holden to the House of Lords if she wins her impending case over topless photos printed in The Star.
The level of fuss generated is further proof that, four years after Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed died in a car crash after being pursued by photographers, the paparazzi are alive and well and having the time of their lives. Highlights of this year's celebrity summer of discontent include the following:
The Photo: Ms Ford is pictured rubbing suntan lotion on her boyfriend while lying on a secluded beach in Majorca.
The Paparazzo: Photos taken by Spanish-based agency Cruise.
The Set-Up: Pictures believed to have been snatched by photographer armed with a telephoto lens hiding in scrub by the beach.
The Sell-Off: Believed to have been sold for £1,000-plus to each of the two publications that used them.
The Client: OK! and The Daily Mail, the latter with the headline "Anna's Splashdown".
The Justification: Neither Northern and Shell, the owners of OK!, nor Mail publishers Associated Newspapers would comment.
Photo: The supermodel was photographed showing what reports described as cellulite on her thighs while splashing with children Georgia, nine, and Gabriel, three, in the sea at St Tropez.
Paparazzo: Eliot Press, a Paris-based agency linked to master snapper and power broker Jason Fraser.
Set-Up: Pictures taken surreptitiously by photographer lurking elsewhere on beach.
Sell-Off: Sold to two papers for £4,000 by the Fraser Woodward agency.
Client: The Mail on Sunday and News of the World, whose headline read "Jerry's Gone Hall Wrinkly".
Justification: Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright said: "Jerry Hall has made a great deal of money over the years having her picture taken. Other professionals expect comment when they fail to maintain their very own ideal standard."
Photo: Ms Holden is caught topless on camera while on holiday with husband Les Dennis at a farm in Tuscany.
Paparazzo: Not known.
Set-Up: Photographer believed to have taken the picture from hiding on private land.
Sell-Off: Sold for an unknown price as a newspaper exclusive.
Client: The Star, under the headline "It's Miss Titley in the Garden of Eden".
Justification: No comment, pending a High Court hearing for alleged breach of confidence and privacy.
J K Rowling
Photo: Harry Potter author shown frolicking on private beach in Mauritius with boyfriend Dr Neil Murray.
Paparazzo: Eliot Press.
Set-Up: Long-lens photography appears to have been taken from a boat out at sea.
Sell-Off: Not known.
Client: First pictures appeared in Mail on Sunday, under headline "Has J K Had a Wizard Wedding?". OK! followed up with shots featuring Ms Rowling's daughter, Jessica.
Justification: Mail on Sunday deputy editor Rod Gilchrist, who turned down the OK! shots, said: "The pictures we had conformed to the PCC guidelines. They were perfectly acceptable and that is why they were used."
Photo: The model and her boyfriend caught in "compromising clinch" on the gardens of their villa in Majorca.
Paparazzo: Unknown French freelance.
Set-Up: Long lens believed to have been used within grounds.
Sell-Off: Eduardo Sanchez, owner of Hola!, the Spanish version of Hello!, paid £100,000. to take the picture off the open market reportedly in exchange for "at home" exclusive with Ms Schiffer.
Client: Not applicable.
Justification: Not applicable.
Duchess of York
Photo: Sarah Ferguson and daughters Eugenie, 11, and Beatrice, 12, pictured sunbathing on a yacht in the south of France.
Set-Up: Taken by long lens from public beach or another boat.
Sell-Off: Sold to five papers for about £500 a time.
Clients: Daily Mail, Daily Express, Mirror, Star and Sun.
Justification: No comments.
When asked if they ever have any qualms about surreptitiously photographing celebrities, most paparazzi are bullish and unrepentant. Others argue that stars enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with the press, and that many "hidden camera shots" are well rehearsed set-ups.
Phil Ramey, an American freelance who chartered a helicopter to take aerial shots of Madonna's first wedding, said constant exposure is a price stars should be prepared to pay for their celebrity. "The problem with celebrities is that they want total control," he said. "They get a lot of benefit from media exposure, so they should expect to be photographed."
Jason Fraser, the former paparazzo who was briefly drafted in to liven up the Daily Express, goes further. He says that no star can honestly claim to be seeking privacy if they travel to locations like Cannes or Barbados at certain times of the year.
"The bottom line is that 95 per cent of people don't mind being photographed candidly, especially if the picture is flattering. It appeals to their vanity," he said. "Hundreds of photographs of celebrities appear in the papers every week, and where are all the complaints?"
Mr Fraser, 34, who had an unofficial working relationship with Princess Diana, added: "I think newspapers have cleaned up their acts a lot in the past four years. Although people talk about Diana's death as a defining moment, I don't think it was. It's been concluded that it was not the photographers' fault that Diana died."
Commenting on the incorporation into UK law of the European Convention on Human Rights, which some media lawyers believe may pave the way for a rash of new privacy cases, he said bluntly: "We have enough draconian laws in this country as it is, and I think the worst thing would be if we ended up going down the French route, where even individual football supporters have to be consulted about the use of their image before photos can be released of a match."
Another photographer, who did not want to be named, estimated that as many as 80 per cent of photos of celebrities supposedly caught unawares are actually arranged in advance by their publicists.
Some lawyers now believe that the PCC appears so toothless in the face of complaints about the media's conduct that more and more people will opt to seek legal redress for their grievances. One barrister, who asked not to be named, said: "The danger is that the PCC could soon be reduced to being a poor man's privacy court."
A PCC spokesman said: "In the courts, there's never going to be a black and white definition of privacy, and by taking a case to us you are likely to get a far quicker judgment."Reuse content