America's obsession with celebrity reached a fever pitch last week as Paris Hilton voyeurs paid $39.97 to subscribe to a Web site that has catalogued the scarlet letters of her larger-than-lusty life -- 18 personal diaries, sex tapes, topless photos, love notes, medical records and friends' phone numbers scribbled on paper napkins.
The highly personal collection -- even for a star who has flaunted everything from her micro dog to her public puss -- has been flogged on the Web site parisexposed.com. Hilton's paper and digital trail was reportedly acquired after she failed to pay the $208 fee on her Los Angeles storage locker in 2005 -- one she rented while moving between mansions.
Hilton filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles Monday seeking to shut down the site and alleging that defendants Nabil and Nabila Haniss paid $2,775 for the belongings before turning around and selling the goods for $10 million to entrepreneur Bardia Persa and David Hans Schmidt, known as the "Sultan of Sleaze" because of his ties to the celebrity porn industry.
"The suit speaks for itself, it's pretty comprehensive," said Elliot Mintz, Hilton's representative.
The collection could be worth $20 million, according to Schmidt. His Web site has been overwhelmed with traffic, proving that one woman's trash can be another man's treasure.
But some, including Paris Hilton and her lawyers, say the invasion of privacy boundaries has gone too far.
"This is certainly a smart move from a business standpoint," said psychologist James Houran, author of the book "Celebrity Worshippers: Inside the Minds of Stargazers."
"Celebrity worship is big business," he said. "But from a social standpoint, it's not healthy. Are you looking at Paris Hilton just because she is attractive or because you want the intimate details of her life and want to be part of her inner circle?"
Celebrities tap into powerful motivational systems designed to foster romantic love, according to experts. Stars summon the most basic human yearnings: to love, admire, copy and, of course, to gossip and to jeer.
"Celebrity equals fame," said Kevin Kelly, executive editor of Wired magazine. "You can't have fame and privacy. There is no privacy even for celebrities."
That notion of privacy, particularly in cases of property rights, is blurred even further in the age of the Internet, according to Scott Altman, professor of law at the University of Southern California. "One of the challenges is that the Internet frequently allows for people other than the wrongdoer to distribute and profit from invasions of privacy."
"If someone steals something from Paris Hilton's locker, and through a series of transactions someone comes to possess something embarrassing or compromising and it ends up on the Internet, it goes everywhere. A third party is always in an ambiguous position as to stolen and compromising goods, but on the Internet the harm is so much swifter and greater," Altman said.
Back in 2005, Schmidt told the Los Angeles Times that Hilton's diaries contained "everything that would be dear to a woman's heart: relationships, personal feelings, sex, love, breakups, sexual experiences -- all those little things that make up a little girl's life -- her deepest, darkest secrets."