The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is on the receiving end of a new complaint urging it to take action over Roblox, the wildly popular metaverse/gaming platform. In a complaint lodged with the FTC this month, Truth in Advertising (“TINA”), a Connecticut-based advertising watchdog, alleges that Roblox Corporation, “a multibillion-dollar public company,” is on the hook for failing to “establish any meaningful guardrails to ensure compliance with truth in advertising laws, effectively allowing marketers, including but not limited to Alo Yoga, DC Entertainment, Forever 21, Hasbro, Hyundai Motor America, Mattel, Netflix, NFL Enterprises LLC, Nike, Paramount, and VF Corp., to manipulate millions of consumers in one of the largest and most captivating virtual platforms on the internet today.” 

Setting the stage in its 44-page complaint, which is addressed to FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Direct Samuel A.A. Levine and Division of Advertising Practices Associate Director Serena Viswanathan, TINA asserts that in furtherance of its operation of a closed platform metaverse, Roblox “pushes [advertising] in front of millions of consumers, including more than 25 million children and adolescents, by a multitude of companies and their avatar influencers.” The problem, it argues, is that in “jump[ing] into the Roblox metaverse” in order to connect with young consumers, Roblox and these big-name companies are allegedly “exploiting children’s inability to distinguish organic content from marketing, and manipulating them and other Roblox users with undisclosed promotions that are nearly identical to organic virtual items and experiences on the platform.” 

Specifically, TINA claims that companies re able to market to consumers in a variety of ways on Roblox, including using: (1) branded worlds (also known as “advergames”); (2) sponsored content placed within organic worlds; and (3) AI-controlled, as well as human-created, avatar brand influencers. Regardless of the marketing format, TINA alleges that the distinction between marketing and organic content is “almost always missing – undisclosed advertisements disguised as games are sprinkled in and among regular games, sponsored brands and items are mixed in with non-sponsored items in organic worlds, and undisclosed bots and avatar brand influencers are walking among, communicating with and playing with other Roblox users.” 

Roblox

Diving into each of these marketing models, TINA states that “most of the sponsored worlds currently on Roblox are advergames, which combine advertisements and gaming in virtual experiences that are always accessible but beyond the control of any one user.” The watchdog points to Vans World, for instance, which it says “has had more than 61 million visits since its April 2021 launch.” Part of the problem, per TINA, is that “because there are more than a dozen different Vans Worlds in the Roblox metaverse, determining which one is the advergame is almost impossible.”  

“Because Roblox advergames, including Nikeland, Vans World, and Hot Wheels Open World, lack clear and conspicuous disclosures informing players that the content with which they are about to engage is marketing material, millions of Roblox users are deceived and unwittingly manipulated into playing within advertisements on a regular basis,” TINA contends. “In fact, the commercial content is so covert in these ad formats that even after adults enter sponsored worlds, they can have trouble accurately identifying them as advergames.” 

In addition to branded worlds, companies are allegedly making use of undisclosed sponsored content within organic worlds. According to TINA, Roblox “highlights ‘events’ on its platform but does not disclose when these events are sponsored.” Popular game Jailbreak, for example, which was developed on Roblox in 2017, hosted a limited-time sponsored event called the “OFFICIAL McLaren F1 Event” that was timed to coincide with the real-world reveal of the new McLaren MCL36. However, TINA claims that “there was no disclosure informing Roblox users of the promotional nature of this marketing event.” Despite being required by law “to clearly and conspicuously disclose the presence of sponsored content within their games and world” (just like how “real” life brands and influencers are legally obligated to disclose material connections), Roblox “does not disclose when these events are sponsored.” It also does not abide by its own terms, TINA argues, which “preclude children under the age of 13 from seeing and/or interacting with such marketing.” 

Finally, in addition to “undisclosed sponsored brand content,” TINA claims that Roblox and other companies “employ undisclosed brand avatar influencers – both human-created and AI-generated – who are playing, communicating and socializing with uninformed users.” With respect to human-created avatar influencers, Roblox and various other brands have enlisted “hundreds of social media influencers, who have built their avatars in this digital metaverse, to promote brands, games and worlds,” per TINA, which states that “it appears that none of these avatar influencers are or have disclosed their material connections to the applicable brands inside the Roblox metaverse.” This means that “potentially millions of users are seeing and interacting with brand endorsers in the Roblox metaverse without ever knowing it.” 

Roblox

TINA points to Nike, which it claims has “enlisted at least a dozen influencers who have not only promoted Nikeland on social media platforms, but also promoted Nikeland in the Roblox metaverse through their avatars.” These Nike gear-wearing avatar influencers “spend time in Nikeland and interact with other avatars – playing games, building mini-games, ‘buying’ Nike gear and communicating with fans – yet none of them appear to have disclosed their material connection to Nike in the advergame.” 

Another key takeaway point from TINA’s complaint is its emphasis on Roblox’s failure to secure the assets of its users, namely, the digital goods that they acquire for use in the Roblox metaverse. In a corresponding release, TINA states that “on its website, Roblox assures parents that its platform is ‘a safe and fun space for players,’” and yet, “in complaints to the FTC, many parents accuse Roblox of failing to protect their children in a variety of ways, including failing to protect their digital assets.” TINA cites a complaint that one parent lodged with the FTC, asserting that “their 12-year-old daughter was ‘heartbroken over her digital loss’ after hackers gained access to her Roblox account and stole valuable items including rare and legendary pets from her inventory in Adopt Me! a pet-raising game” on Roblox. 

Unlike other metaverse platforms, TINA contends that “Roblox virtual items and its currency are not created or secured using blockchain technology, which means Roblox objects are not NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and Robux is not a cryptocurrency.” As a result, when Roblox users lose their accounts for whatever reason, “they also lose every asset that was in the account, an occurrence that appears to happen with some frequency according to complaints filed with the FTC.” 

With the foregoing and other issues in mind, TINA “strongly urges the FTC to commence an investigation into the deceptive marketing on and by Roblox and take appropriate enforcement action,” arguing that “little has been done, and legislative efforts to stop manipulative online marketing that threatens children and teens have not yet come to fruition.” 

A spokesperson for Roblox told TFL on Monday, “Roblox is committed to ensuring our users and developers have a positive and safe experience on our platform. We have strict guidelines for developers that want to promote or use ads within their experiences, including specific rules to protect users under 13, expectations that all developers adhere to Community Standards we strictly enforce, and no tolerance for fraud or scams. We have stringent rules and monitoring processes aimed at combating content to exploit or trick users. We also make significant investments in new ways to allow creators to be compensated for their efforts while ensuring ad experiences are transparent and comply with applicable laws and regulations.”

Reps for Nike and Vans-owner VF Corp. were not immediately available for comment.

“Purchasing is very often more than just a simple transaction between buyer and supplier,” with consumption being a social experience in many cases, and the influence of others playing a role in what we buy. That same goes for the consumption and sale of counterfeit goods, according to a recent report from the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office, which surveyed 1,000 female consumers (“as the social media endorsements of counterfeit products are dominated by female influencers and a female audience,” the research population was limited to female consumers), to gauge the state of the market for counterfeits and determine the extent to which social media influencers facilitate the purchasing of such goods. 

The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (“UKIPO”)’s top-line finding in connection with its survey was that 17 percent of participants (70 percent of whom were between ages 16 and 33) reported that they had knowingly purchased counterfeits in the prior year – and 13.3 percent revealed that their purchasing behavior relating to counterfeit products has, in fact, been influenced by social media endorsements. In other words, that 13.3 percent of respondents reported that they had “purchased counterfeits either deliberately or by mistake following social media influencers’ endorsements,” which the UKIPO contends “clearly demonstrates” that influencers are an noteworthy force in endorsing counterfeits and an “important channel to market for counterfeit suppliers on the other side of the world.” 

In line with previously-reported figures, the UKIPO found that fashion and related accessories are top drivers of counterfeit consumption, with this category of goods being “particularly attractive” for younger consumers (i.e., those in the 16-33 age group), with 1 in 5 (20 percent) of survey participants admitted to buying counterfeit clothing or accessories in the prior year compared to 4 percent of older consumers.” (The UKIPO notes that it defined counterfeits to participants as “items that look identical to a genuine product with or without the official branding/logo, but are not made by the brand and may be of lower quality, for example, a handbag of identical design to a “Chanel” with or without the Chanel logo.”)

Aside from fashion apparel and accessories, which was the most popular product category when it comes to counterfeit consumption, according to the UKIPO, fake jewelry and watches, and beauty products were also noted as frequently purchased. 

Another interesting takeaway about the mindset of consumers when it comes to counterfeit goods from the UKIPO’s findings is that 18 percent of survey respondents “believe counterfeits do not harm businesses and jobs,” 22 percent “believe counterfeits are not a health and safety threat,” and finally, a larger 33 percent (or one-third of survey participants) revealed that the trade in counterfeits is actually “the manufacturers’ fault for overpricing high brand products.” 

The Rise of “Dupes,” as Platforms Eye Luxury

The timing of the UKIPO’s survey seems appropriate given the overarching rise of “dupes” both in terms of Google searches and on social media sites, including Instagram and TikTok, and influencers who have built sizable followings thanks, in many cases, to their posts on this topic. As TFL reported this past summer, while recent Google Trends data indicates that searches for the word “replica,” for instance, are steadily declining overall, searches for “dupes” have been on the rise in recent years.

“A browse through YouTube reveals innumerable videos presented by young, mainly female content creators that promote counterfeit clothing, accessories and beauty products to followers,” the UK IP body stated, pointing to one British influencer with 4.4 million subscribers on her YouTube channel, who “posted a video promoting counterfeit goods in May 2021 entitled, ‘I Bought Fake Designer Bags on Wish.’” The video – which features counterfeit Louis Vuitton, Jacquemus, Dior, and Balenciaga bags – has since been viewed 221,326 times. 

At the same time, brands and marketplace sites are coming together to send public messages to influencers (and the public at large) in connection with their role endorsing counterfeit goods. Amazon, for instance, filed a counterfeit-centric lawsuit in November 2020, accusing influencers Kelly Fitzpatrick and Sabrina Kelly-Krejci of “engaging in a sophisticated campaign of false advertising” in connection with which they have “conspired” with sellers on Amazon’s marketplace to evade Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting protections by promoting counterfeit luxury goods – from Gucci belts to Dior handbags – on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and their own websites. That case settled in September, with the terms of the largely confidential agreement putting in place a prohibition against Fitzpatrick and Kelly-Krejci from “marketing, advertising, linking to, promoting or selling any products on Amazon,” and in terms of monetary damages being paid by the defendants, Amazon revealed that it would donate the sum to various non-profit organizations, including an anti-counterfeiting initiative of the International Trademark Association.

Not to be outdone, Facebook, Inc. (now Meta) partnered with Gucci in April 2021 to file suit against a single defendant – a woman named Natalia Kokhtenko –for operating “an international online business, trafficking in illegal counterfeit goods,” which has seen her use the “Facebook and Instagram [platforms] to promote the sale of [luxury brand] counterfeit goods,” such as Gucci handbags, shoes, clothing, and accessories, and running afoul of trademark law and “Facebook and Instagram’s terms and policies” in the process. That case is still underway in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. 

Given the strikingly limited scope of both cases (there are far more than marketplace sellers and influencers hawking counterfeits on Instagram and Amazon), the cases are almost certainly part of a larger trust-building exercise aimed to luring consumers and brands onto these platforms, and enabling them to be viewed as a source of legitimate fashion. In much the same vein as Amazon, which has not been quiet about its ambitions in the fashion and luxury space, Reuters reported last year that “groups like Facebook, Inc. are keen to make a bigger push into the luxury market and ‘social commerce,’ but to do so they need to show that their platforms are not a conduit for counterfeiting and are safe for brands, some of which are reluctant to sell their products through third-party players.” Targeting counterfeit-peddling influencers is one part of that effort.

L’Oréal has been going through a massive retail row in China after two leading social media influencers sold large quantities of the French cosmetics company’s beauty face masks to consumers while inaccurately claiming it was the cheapest deal available anywhere. Influencers Austin Li Jiaqi and Wei Ya regularly reach tens of millions of shoppers on their two e-commerce livestreams, and the November 11 “Singles Day” festival has become one of their most eagerly anticipated broadcasts. 

This year, among the many products that Jiaqi and Ya were each selling on Singles Day was the supposedly special offer of batches of 50 L’Oréal masks for ¥429 ($66.30). But it emerged shortly after that the same deal was available direct from L’Oréal for ¥258. Li, known as China’s “lipstick king” for his ability to sell masses of product online, and Wei, a former pop star who rose to fame as the winner of China’s equivalent of Pop Idol, started receiving large volumes of complaints from furious shoppers. Both influencers issued apologies. After L’Oréal did not immediately say it would compensate those who had bought the masks, the influencers said they would no longer showcase the company’s products. 

Now L’Oréal has apologized and confirmed it will provide compensation. In a statement, the company blamed its “overly complicated sales mechanism” and said it had “found a constructive and satisfactory solution to address the recent customers complaints in relation with singles day promotion.” The row has not been pleasant for anyone involved, but it shows how important influencers have become as endorsers of luxury goods in China. So how has the market changed, and what does it mean for customers?

Changing face of luxury retail

China is the most important market in the world for luxury goods, with Chanel, Dior, Cartier and Hermès among the leading brands in the country. The market has been doing strong business during COVID. For example, major Hong Kong-based luxuries retailer Chow Tai Fook has reported an annual revenue increase of nearly 24 percent in its 2021 financial year, mostly from mainland China. 

Luxury brands have traditionally relied on flagship stores in the best shopping districts to connect with their customers. The number and size of stores has continued increasing in leading malls like Plaza 66 in Shanghai and SKP Beijing, where all the top luxury brands have large external facades and dazzling logo displays. They also use historical buildings, such as the ones situated at the north of the Shanghai Bund waterfront district. 

But while physical stores are still important, most brands seek to extend their reach online. A major part of this is through using the internet as a way to communicate their relationships with celebrities. Cartier, for example, invites Chinese movie stars to attend its promotional events. These would include star actors like Tony Leung, and more recently actor Chang Chen and actor/singer Lu Han, who would be described as “good friends of Cartier” to highlight the brand’s prestige through these connections.

But when Cartier has tried to use social media to promote these celebrity attachments, consumers have reacted badly. I have read thousands of comments (in Chinese) from people ridiculing the watchmaker for referring to its endorsers as “friends”, claiming that this detracts from the importance of their favourite stars. Most Chinese people would say that “guest” is a more respectful choice of word than “friend.” 

Perhaps partly because of such experiences, luxury brands have turned to social media influencers to help communicate their messages. For example, Dior hired Angelababy, a famous actor and internet celebrity from Hong Kong, as a brand ambassador in 2017. The relationship has continued to the present day, with the actor appearing in virtual form at Shanghai Fashion Week in April. Yet, using Angelababy in this way was questioned by Dior’s customers online, as she is an agent of the brand rather than an independent influencer. This means she is seen as not being in a position to speak on behalf of Dior’s customers and fans in the way that she might otherwise have done. 

Unpredictable behavior

Just like celebrities, influencers come with the additional problem that brands have no direct control over their behavior. Whatever exactly happened in the case of L’Oréal and its influencers, for instance, they have not been speaking in unison since the debacle with the face masks. 

When it comes to the dangers of individual behavior, the only consolation is that it can sometimes work in the brand’s favor. This happened to Dior, for instance, when footage surfaced in which Angelababy was perceived as speaking up for an actress in an encounter with pop star Kris Wu, who was subsequently arrested on suspicion of rape in relation to a separate incident.

At any rate, L’Oréal’s recent problems show that while influencers are potentially more objective moderators than traditional celebrities (particularly if you don’t use them as brand ambassadors), online marketing still presents great risks. In an era where millennials engage mainly online, an incident like the one with Li and Wei can spread quickly and stick in consumers’ minds much more than the glitzy marketing narratives that are pushed by the luxury brands. A fan exposed to a debacle like L’Oréal’s can turn hostile overnight to the brand they loved.

Perhaps the ideal relationship between brands and influencers arises from Vogue China’s decision earlier this year to appoint famous 27-year-old blogger Margaret Zhang as editor-in-chief. Even though she never trained in journalism, she is well accepted by consumers of high fashion, and her endorsement is now arguably one of the most valuable to brands in the business.

Samuel Kwok is an Associate Professor of Transdisciplinary Studies at Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University. (This article was initially published by The conversation.)

Influencer Danielle Bernstein, her brand WeWoreWhat, and a handful of retailers have been handed a mixed decision in the latest round of the case that has seen them facing off against Great Eros over a pattern that Bernstein and WeWoreWhat allegedly copied and passed off as their own. In a declaratory judgment action filed in October 2020, WeWoreWhat and Bernstein asked a New York federal court to formally declare that they did not run afoul of the indie intimates brand’s rights by using a lookalike “Silhouettes Design.” A month later, Great Eros filed a copyright infringement and unfair competition complaint against Bernstein, WeWoreWhat, their manufacturing partner Onia, and retailers Saks Fifth Avenue, ShopBop, and Carbon 38 (the “defendants”) in a California federal court, arguing that the WeWoreWhat pattern is a direct rip-off of one that it began using several years ago. 

Fast forward to May 2021, and following a combination of the two cases before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, something that the defendants argued was proper in light of the fact that the defendants filed their case first, and that “nearly all of the parties in this action are residents of New York,” the defendants sought to have one of the causes of action set out against them dismissed. Specifically, Bernstein and co. asked the court to toss out Great Eros’ California unfair competition claim, arguing that the Brooklyn, New York-based brand failed to show how their alleged violations of law occurred within California, and for the most part, the court agreed. 

In an Opinion & Order dated October 22, Judge Paul Engelmayer of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York determined that Great Eros pleaded a “sufficient connection between [Carbon 38’s] alleged misconduct and California” – but failed to do so in connection with the other defendants. 

The problem, according to the court, is that Great Eros only cites one reference to misconduct that occurred in California when it alleged that Carbon 38 “sold the infringing goods to consumers in its brick-and-mortar store in Pacific Palisades, California.” Because none of the alleged infringement by the other defendants has “any nexus to California,” the court dismissed the plaintiff’s California unfair competition claim with respect to all of the defendants except for Carbon 38. Not a total loss for WeWoreWhat and co., the court has given Great Eros the opportunity to replead its California unfair competition claim to show that the other defendants also sold and marketed the infringing goods in California. (And, of course, Great Eros’ copyright infringement and Lanham Act claims against all of the defendants remain in place.)

WeWoreWhat pattern

No Sanctions for the Defendants

After addressing the defendants’ aim to have Great Eros’ California unfair competition claim tossed out, Judge Engelmayer turned his attention to the defendants’ motion in which they sought to have him levy sanctions – both in the form of monetary damages, as well as dismissal of Great Eros’ complaint – against Great Eros’ counsel on the basis that Great Eros filed a “baseless complaint, and has refused to withdraw [that] complaint after purportedly learning that its claims were without merit.”

As summarized by the court, the defendants argued in their previously-lodged motion for sanctions that a number of the key allegations that Great Eros made in connection with its complaint “lack factual support.” Among such allegations is Great Eros’ claim that Bernstein visited its PR showroom before making the allegedly infringing products, and that she and WWW “inquired about obtaining [Great Eros] products in exchange for promoting [the brand] on her social media channels.” Also at issue is Great Eros’ claim that Bernstein and Onia “purchased [Great Eros] goods and instructed their designers to copy the pattern at issue,” and that they infringed Great Eros’ copyright in the pattern by “reproducing” it for their own goods, including swimwear, athleisure garments, yoga mats, and wallpaper, among other things.

(The primary reason that these claims lack factual support, according to the defendants, is that Bernstein and WWW allegedly created their version of the pattern independently, as evidenced by an email asserting that Bernstein “does not recall specifically being introduced to” the Great Eros brand at any point. Among some of the other pieces of “clear” evidence that the defendants claim rebuts Great Eros’ claims is an inspiration deck for WWW’s collection that does not include Great Eros designs, “original” hand sketches of the design, and declarations from the defendants’ employees (that are not under oath) that WWW and Bernstein did not copy Great Eros’ design.)

The defendants further argue that Great Eros is also at fault – and sanctions are appropriate – for opting to file its case in California federal court after the defendants had already filed suit in New York, and thus, did so “with the improper purposes of harassing, causing unnecessary delay, and needlessly increasing litigation costs.” 

Reflecting on the defendants’ motion for sanctions, the court held that it is “entirely without merit” and held that sanctions are “unwarranted” across the board. In terms of the defendants’ independent creation arguments, the court sided with Great Eros, asserting that even with the aforementioned evidence at play (which is no substitute for discovery, per Judge Engelmayer), the defendants have fallen short of showing that Great Eros’ allegations are “so meritless as to warrant a finding of bad faith” and thus, to warrant sanctions. In fact, the court held that Great Eros can actually point to evidence that is “consistent with possible copying,” including that the defendants’ admission that “Bernstein may have visited a showroom in which [Great Eros’] products were shown, and Dalia Cunow, Onia’s creative director, admits that she actually purchased [Great Eros’] goods.” 

These facts “may prove to be building blocks for [Great Eros’] claim that the defendants knew of its design, and then copied it.” 

(And it is worth noting, as the court did, that even if the defendants can successfully show that they independently created the lookalike print, that will not shield them from potential liability when it comes to Great Eros’ Lanham Act claims, which do not require proof of deliberate copying,” and instead, hinge on whether the parties’ prints serve as trademarks and whether consumers are likely to be confused by the defendants’ use of the similar print.)

As for the defendants’ claim that Great Eros engaged in bad faith “forum shopping” by filing suit in California and should be subjected to sanctions as a result, the court sided with Great Eros again, holding that actually … “Onia and WWW filed the New York action only after receiving a draft copy of [Great Eros’] California complaint, and after the [defendants’] counsel after Great Eros to hold off filing that complaint while [they] conferred with their clients.” Against this background, the court stated that Great Eros’ decision to file suit in California “is no more sanctionable than the defendants’ decision to front-run the California lawsuit that [Great Eros] had notified [them] it planned to bring.” 

With all of this in mind, the court dismissed Great Eros’ California unfair competition claim with respect to all of the defendants by Carbon 38, and also dismissed the motion for sanctions without prejudice meaning that it could be filed again at a later point in the case.

In the complaint that initiated the case, WWW and co. asserted that despite what the Great Eros argued in cease-and-desist letters that it began sending to them in August 2020 (and then in its complaint), the two parties’ prints are not “substantially similar,” and in fact, the WWW “silhouettes design is substantially different from” the design that appears on the Great Eros’s tissue paper.” WWW further alleged that “no one, including [the Great Eros], owns the concept of silhouettes of the human form,” pointing to “widely accessible and similar designs in the marketplace.” 

In its own complaint a month later, Great Eros pointed to Bernstein’s “history of copying others’ designs and passing them off as her own,” and argued that Bernstein had, in fact, “visited the showroom of [its] sales representative prior to producing the infringing goods, and inquired about obtaining [Great Eros’] products in exchange for promoting [the company] through her social media channels.” Great Eros asserted that it “believes that Ms. Bernstein, WWW, and/or Onia subsequently purchased [its] products that were wrapped in [its] trademark tissue paper … and instructed their pattern makers to copy the [design] for use on the infringing goods.” 

The case is CV Collection, LLC, v. WEWOREWHAT, LLC, et al, 1:21-cv-01623 (SDNY).

With the general rise in social media usage and the decline in conventional advertising formats has come a surge in Instagram-centric ad efforts. This push to meet consumers where they are (i.e., on Instagram and other social media platforms) has meant that the jobs of influential figures – whether it be fashion bloggers, editors and runway models or reality television stars and more traditional Hollywood celebrities – have expanded to include building and maintaining sizable social media followings in order to leverage those followings for big-money advertising partnerships. 

IMG Models’ Luiz Mattos, the power agent behind the likes of supermodels Gigi and Bella Hadid, actress Priyanka Chopra, and longtime Victoria’s Secret angel Alessandra Ambrosio, put it best when he told revealed that “these days, models’ jobs don’t end when they leave the studio or the runway … Your job is not only to be in front of the camera. When you finish shooting a campaign and you’re posting on social, you need to have something to say.” 

The same goes for fashion editors and fashion brands that are expected to maintain carefully curated social media accounts, as well as brands. And then there are the social media influencers and mega-stars like Kylie Jenner, who earn a significant portion of their income based on social media ads. Jenner, for instance, earns a recently-reported $1.2 million per sponsored social media post, according to Instagram analytics company Hopper HQ, in connection with her regularly updated account. 

One of the glaring side effects of such increased attention to Instagram – paired with a handful of notably aggressive copyright lawyers – is the growing number of copyright infringement lawsuits that are being filed against individuals and brands over their unauthorized use of others’ images either of themselves, in the case celebrities and models, or of others in their wares when it comes to brands. Regardless of who appears in a photo (as copyright law does not award rights based on the subject of a photo, although at least some, such as Gigi Hadid, have taken to arguing that joint copyright rights should exist in some cases), the individual(s) behind the creation of a photo, almost exclusively paparazzi photographers (or their employers) in these instances, are the copyright holders, and as a result, any use of images by individuals other than the copyright holder gives rise to copyright infringement claims. 

Here is a non-exhaustive (running) look at some of the recently-filed paparazzi v. celebrity and paparazzi v. brand cases …

OCTOBER 2021 – Eva’s Photography, Inc. v. Inamorata Swim LLC, 2:21-cv-08136 (C.D.Cal.)

In the latest in a string of lawsuits being filed over the allegedly unauthorized posting of photos of Emily Ratajkowski by Emily Ratajkowski, Eva’s Photography has filed suit against Ratajkowski’s brand Inamorata Swim on the heels of the model-slash-actress posting a since-deleted photo of herself on her personal Instagram account in May. (The photo was subsequently shared by JW PEI, the brand that made the purse that Ratajkowski is toting in the photo; JW PEI is not named as a defendant in the complaint.)

According to Eva’s Photography’s complaint, Ratajkowski “engaged in this misconduct knowingly and in violation of the United States copyright laws.”

OCTOBER 2021 – Backgrid USA v. Scott Disick, 2:21-cv-07887 (C.D.Cal.)

Scott Disick of Keeping Up with the Kardashians fame is being sued for posting not one paparazzi photo to his Instagram account without licensing the photo or otherwise receiving authorization to use it, but for posting eight unauthorized photos to his heavily followed Instagram account @letthelordbewithyou dating back to 2016. According to Backgrid’s newly-filed complaint, in at least one of the Instagram posts featuring the copyright-protected imagery, Disick “included text that promoted [his] fashion apparel brand, Talentless,” namely by way of a caption that read, “Looking good in the @talentless Vote sweatshirt.”

Addressing the harm caused by Disick’s alleged infringements, Backgrid asserts that his use of the photos “devalued the photographs and harmed BackGrid because they were re-posted and copied by others, including by BackGrid customers who would otherwise license the Photographs from BackGrid. For example, BackGrid’s customer The Daily Mail reposted Mr. Disick’s Instagram post that included [a photo of Disick in front of Nobu in 2018].” Additionally, Backgrid claims that Disick’s “unauthorized uses of the photographs are commercial in nature,” as he “uses his Instagram account for the purposes of promotion—specifically, to promote his business interests, products, and ventures— specifically Talentless; to promote and sell the products and services of others; to maintain and increase his visibility and desirability as endorser and television personality; and to promote his own persona given his celebrity status and popularity.”

SEPTEMBER 2021 – Backgrid USA v. Rhude Designs LLC, 2:21-cv-07567 (C.D.Cal.)

In a newly-filed copyright lawsuit, Backgrid claims that Los Angeles-based brand Rhude and its founder Rhuigi Villaseñor are both on the hook for copyright infringement for engaging in “at least 4 instances of infringement by way of [their] unlawful reproduction and display of the celebrity photographs,” including one of actor James Franco wearing their designs. Specifically, Backgrid claims that the defendants “reproduced, distributed, displayed, and created unauthorized derivative works of the timely registered celebrity photographs on its Instagram account without consent or license” in an attempt to boost traffic to the brand’s social media account and its e-commerce site.

In furtherance of efforts “to promote the brand, both the Rhude Brand and Villaseñor engage customers and prospective customers through their Instagram accounts,” the photo agency asserts, alleging that “Rhude has driven significant traffic to its Instagram and increased the goodwill to its brand through the unauthorized use of the celebrity photographs, and, thereby, has increased its revenues through the presence of the sought-after and searched-for celebrity photographs that frame this dispute.”

Such traffic translated into a “substantial ill-gotten commercial advantage and increased brand awareness as a direct consequence of the infringements,” per BackGrid, which claims that “Villaseñor personally participated in the willful infringement at issue in this case on behalf of the Rhude Brand by and through the Rhude Brand Instagram account, making the infringement on each account the responsibility of both the Rhude Brand and Villaseñor.”

SEPTEMBER 2021 – Robert O’Neil v. Blakel, Inc., 2:21-cv-07386 (C.D.Cal.)

In a short, 7-page complaint photographer Robert O’Neil accuses Blake Lively’s corporate entity of copyright infringement in connection with her since-deleted Instagram post that featured a photo of herself from August 2018. According to O’Neil, Lively “did not license the photograph from [him],” nor did she have his “permission or consent to publish the photograph.”

Interestingly (although, probably unsurprisingly), Instagram account @commentsbycelebs posted part of the same image back in August 2018 along with a screenshot of a comment that Lively made in response to another Instagram user who urged her to either “hire a stylist or fire the one you’re currently with,” but was not targeted in the same copyright infringement suit or a separate suit.

JULY 2021 – Javier Mateo v. Emily Ratajkowski, 2:21-cv-05684 (C.D.Cal.)

Javier Mateo filed suit against Emily Ratajkowski, asserting that he is the rightful owner of three photos that she “actively copied, stored, and/or displayed” on her Instagram account without his permission or authorization. Mateo claims that the model-slash-actress “engaged in this misconduct knowingly and in violation of the U.S. copyright laws.” 

Additionally, Mateo asserts in his complaint that Ratajkowski “has the legal right and ability to control and limit the infringing activities on her [Instagram] account,” “monitors the content on her account,” and “at all times had the ability to stop the reproduction and display of [his] copyrighted material.” Yet, the photographer plaintiff argues that she “willfully and volitionally posted” the images to her account, and “received a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringements,” while also allegedly “harming … [the] potential market for the photographs.”

JULY 2021 – Integral Images v. Dua Lipa, 2:21-cv-05470 (C.D.Cal.)

In a largely run of the mill copyright infringement complaint, Integral Images asserts that Lipa posted the now-deleted photo to her Instagram account, along with the caption, “I’ll be living under big fluffy hats until further notice,” without licensing the photo or otherwise receiving the photo licensing agency’s authorization, thereby, running afoul of federal copyright law. Hardly an innocent mistake, Integral Images claims that Lipa knowingly displayed the image without its authorization, and stood to benefit by posting it to her heavily-followed Instagram, as the account is “monetized in that it contains content designed to accumulate followers who are directed to, via link and/or advertisement, consume and purchase [her] content.”

JULY 2021 – Timur Mishiev v. Katharine McPhee Foster, 2:21-cv-05682 (C.D.Cal.)

JULY 2021 – John Carta v. Kaley Christine Cuoco, 2:21-cv-05681 (C.D.Cal.)

JUNE 2021 – Backgrid USA, Inc. v. Lisa Rinna, 2:21-cv-04779 (C.D. Cal.)

FEBRUARY 2021 – Backgrid USA, Inc. v. Outdoor Voices, Inc., 2:21-cv-01325 (C.D.Cal.)

Outdoor Voices is on the hook for copyright infringement, according to a newly-filed suit. “BackGrid is the owner and exclusive copyright holder of a photographic image, originally created by photographer Silvio Antonio as part of a series of photographic images, depicting international model Alessandra Ambrosio walking and wearing a light orange colored sweat suit that, on information and belief, was designed by defendant Outdoor Voices,” the photo agency asserts in its complaint. Despite “never licens[ing] the photograph to Outdoor Voices,” Backgrid claims that the company “copied” the image and “distributed it on Instagram on February 5, 2020, via its account @outdoorvoices.” BackGrid says that it “discovered Outdoor Voices’ infringement of the photo on or about February 6, 2020.”

At the same time, Backgrid asserts that Outdoor Voices similarly infringed two separate photos “depicting musician Harry Styles walking near a white SUV”  – while wearing Outdoor Voices apparel  – when it “copied … and distributed them on Instagram story on August 18, 2018, via its account @outdoorvoices,” which BackGrid discovered “on or about August 18, 2018.”

Such allegedly unauthorized use of the image by Outdoor Voices – which “specifically posted the Photographs on Instagram to advertise the Outdoor Voices apparel worn by Alessandra Ambrosio and Harry Styles” – “harms BackGrid’s business model by driving down the prices for legitimately licensed celebrity images and driving away BackGrid’s actual and potential customers,” the photo agency argues, noting that “BackGrid’s customers—among them, media companies who pay large license fees for celebrity visual content—are less likely to purchase licenses, or pay as much for a license, when the same visual content will be widely distributed simultaneously on publicly available social media.”

JANUARY 2021 – Xposure Photo Agency Inc., v. Dundas World Ltd., 2:21-cv-00612 (C.D.Cal.)

Following a bit of a slowdown in filings, likely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and due, in part, to a marked drop in filings by notorious copyright case-filer Richard Liebowitz, who Law360 notes has “routinely filed dozens of copyright cases each month [in recent years], but filed just four since the start of December,” designer Peter Dundas’ brand is on the receiving end of a copyright infringement suit. According to a complaint filed on January 22, Xposure claims that Dundas World posted a photo of “depicting model and Instagram star Maya Henry wearing clothing designed by [Dundas] and accompanied by singer-songwriter Liam Payne” on its Instagram story “specifically to advertise [its] ‘D6’ line of apparel.”

Xposure asserts that Dundas’ “unauthorized use is commercial in nature, [as] Dundas uses its Instagram feed for the purposes of promotion—specifically, to promote its own business interests, products, and ventures. Indeed, Dundas specifically posted the photograph to its story to advertise the Dundas-designed clothing worn by Maya Henry in the photograph.” Particularly, Xpsoure argues that “Dundas writes in the post ‘@maya_henry in #D6’ with D6 being one of the lines of apparel offered by Dundas. In short, [its] Instagram posts and stories promote its products, the infringing post at issue here being no exception.”

NOVEMBER 2020 – Splash News and Picture Agency, LLC v. Ashley Benson, 2:20-cv-10864 (C.D.Cal.).

MAY 2020 – BackGrid USA, Inc. v. Justin Bieber, 2:20-cv-04685 (C.D.Cal.).

APRIL 2020 Angela Ma v. Kendall Jenner, Inc. and Kendall Jenner, 2:20-cv-03011 (C.D.Cal.).

By posting a video to her Instagram that New York-based Angela Ma took of her outside if the Balenciaga store in Soho, Kendall Jenner engaged in copyright infringement, and is the “direct and proximate cause of the infringement,” and thus, should be forced to pay either the sum of Ma’s “actual damages and [Jenner’s] profits, gains or advantages of any kind attributable to [her] infringement of [Ma’s] video” or … alternatively, statutory damages up to $150,000. 

FEBRUARY 2020 – Gonzalez v. I.A.M.GIA (US) LLC, 1:20-cv-01483 (SDNY).

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Buzzy Instagram-favored brand I.A.M.GIA posted photographs of Brazilian Victoria Secret model Bruna Lirio wearing its clothing and now is being sued for it. Photographer Alberto Gonzalez claims that the Southern California-based brand engaged in the “unauthorized reproduction and public display of two copyrighted photographs.” The problem, according to Gonzalez? “I Am Gia did not license the photographs from [him], nor did I Am Gia have [his] permission or consent to publish the photographs.”

FEBRUARY 2020 – Ramales v. Alexander Wang Incorporated, 1:20-cv-00926 (SDNY).

Felipe Ramales claims that Alexander Wang is on the hook for copyright infringement “arising out of [its] unauthorized reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of singer Dua Lipa, owned and registered by Ramales, a professional photographer.”

FEBRUARY 2020 – Mishiev v. Hadid AKA Bella Hadid, 1:20-cv-00959 (SDNY).

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In another suit filed against Bella Hadid, the model is being accused of copyright infringement in connection with a photo that she posted to Instagram in September 2019, complete with the caption: “@zendaya made this hat so I shall wear this hat until I can no longer wear this hat anymore @tommyhilfiger.” Turns out, photographer Timur Missive says that he took and maintains a copyright registration for the original photo, which Hadid cropped and posted to her account.

DECEMBER 2019 – Xposure Photo Agency Inc. v. Isabella Khiar Hadid p/k/a Bella Hadid, 2:19-cv-10587 (C.D.Cal).

According to a complaint filed in a California federal court, “model, businesswoman, and entrepreneur” Bella Hadid – “or someone acting on her behalf” – took five images owned by Xposure Photo Agency Inc. and posted them to her highly-followed Instagram account on various dates between September 6, 2016 and June 17, 2018, thereby, engaging in “systemic piracy” that causes “harm to the existing and future market for the original photographs.”

DECEMBER 2019 – Vila v. Fenty Corp., 1:19-cv-11790 (SDNY).

In the second paparazzi lawsuit filed against it in 2019, Rihanna and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s Fenty is being sued for post a photo of model Irina Shayk to its Instagram stories. According to the complaint that professional photographer Carlos Vila filed, he took a photo of model Irina Shayk on a Manhattan street this summer, clad in denim pieces from Fenty – the high-end fashion venture that Rihanna launched this year with luxury powerhouse LVMH – only to have the brand use the image (without his authorization) to promote its offerings on Instagram. 

NOVEMBER 2019 – Eva’s Photography, Inc. v. HVN, LLC, 1:19-cv-11010 (SDNY).

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Eva’s Photography, Inc. is taking on the eponymous brand for model-slash-DJ Harley Viera-Newton in a new suit, accusing the fashion company of infringing its copyright in a photo of Jennifer Lawrence. According to Eva’s Photograph’s complaint, while it is a “professional photography company the business of licensing photographs to online and print media for a fee,” HVN, LLC paid no such fee before it posted a photo of the actress in one of its dresses on its Instagram account.

NOVEMBER 2019 – Krieger v. Staud, Inc., 1:19-cv-10861 (SDNY).

Photographer David Krieger is suing buzzy young brand Staud over it allegedly “unauthorized reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of actress Camila Mendes, [that the photog] owns and registered” with the U.S. Copyright Office. Krieger claims that in June, he photographed the Riverdale actress, who was wearing a Staud cropped top at the time, only to have the brand “post the photograph on its Instagram Story as tool to promote its brand.”

“Staud did not license the photograph from [him] for its Instagram Story,” Krieger claims, “nor did Staud have [his] permission or consent to publish the photograph on its Instagram Story,” thereby giving rise to his claim of copyright infringement.

OCTOBER 2019 – Carlos Vila v. Staud, Inc., 1:19-cv-09119 (SDNY).

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In another suit filed against Staud, photographer Carlos Vila is taking issue with the brand’s “unauthorized reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of British model and fashion designer Alexa Chung with her model boyfriend Matt Hitt,” which is “owned and registered by Vila.” Despite not being “licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publically display, distribute and/or use the photograph,” Vila claims that Staud “reproduced and publicly displayed the photograph on [its] Instagram Story,” thereby running afoul of the law.

OCTOBER 2019 – Splash News v. Moschino S.P.A., Jeremy Scott, and Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar p/k/a Cardi B, 2:19-cv-09220 (C.D.Cal).

Jeremy Scott and Moschino, along with rapper Cardi B, are the latest names on a long list of fashion brands and celebrities to be sued for allegedly running afoul of federal copyright law by posting others’ images to their social media accounts without paying to license the photos or receiving the copyright holder’s authorization to post them. In a lawsuit filed in a California federal court, Splash News claims that Moschino, Scott, and Cardi B interfered with its photo-licensing business by posting photos taken this spring of Cardi B wearing a flower-covered Moschino coat. 

Los Angeles-based Splash New asserts in its newly-filed complaint that despite reaching out to Moschino to notify the fashion brand about the photos and “offering [the brand] a license for internal or social media use,” Moschino and its creative director “copied” the images from The Daily Mail – which was granted a license to published the photos by Splash News – “almost instantaneously” and posted them on their respective social media accounts, while Cardi B posted one of the photos to her Instagram a month later.   

OCTOBER 2019 – O’Neil v. Ratajkowski et al1:19-cv-09769 (SDNY).

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Emily Ratajkowski’s “forever mood” is getting her sued. The model-splash-actress has been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit after posting a photo of herself on her Instagram account. According to a complaint filed in a New York federal court on Wednesday, photographer Robert O’Neil claims that Ratajkowski and her corporate entity Emrata Holdings LLC ran afoul of federal copyright law when the 28-year old posted one of his photos to her Instagram story.

OCTOBER 2019 – Stewart v. Are You Am I, 1:19-cv-09738 (SDNY).

Early fashion blogger Rumi Neely’s company Are You Am I is being sued. According to photographer Michael Stewart’s complaint, the Los Angeles-based brand ran afoul of federal copyright law by allegedly posting a photo of “it” model Kaia Gerber on its Instagram account without authorization from the copyright-holding photographer.

OCTOBER 2019 – Jawad Elatab v. Hesperios, Inc., 1:19-cv-9678 (SDNY).

Just over a month after photographer Robert Barbara filed suit against Mode PR for posting a photo of Bella Hadid wearing a top and skirt made/sold by its client Hesperios, a different photographer is suing the womenswear brand for posting a separate but similar photo of Hadid. In the complaint that Jawad Elatab filed against Hesperios, he claims that the brand violated his copyright rights by posting a photo of Bella Hadid.

OCTOBER 2019 – Barbera v. Justin Bieber Brands, LLC et al, 1:19-cv-09532 (SDNY).

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We can add Justin Bieber to the list of celebs to be sued over paparazzi photos. The singer has been named in a copyright infringement suit after posting a photo of himself and cool-pastor Rich Wilkerson to his Instagram this spring without receiving authorization to do so from photographer Robert Barbera or paying a licensing fee. Barbera says that he “is the author of the photograph and has at all times been the sole owner of all right, title and interest in and to the photograph, including the copyright thereto,” making Bieber’s Instagram post a violation of his exclusive rights as the copyright holder.  

OCTOBER 2019 – Nam v. Marc Jacobs International, L.L.C., 1:19-cv-09463 (SDNY).

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And Marc Jacobs has been hit with yet another paparazzi lawsuit. In a complaint filed in a New York federal court, photographer Patrick Nam is suing the New York-based brand over its “unauthorized reproduction and public display of two copyrighted photographs of influencer Margaret Zhang. Nam claims that Marc Jacobs ran two “photographs of Zhang on [Instagram] as marketing to promote their brand,” despite not “licensing the photographs from [him],” or receiving “permission or consent to publish the photographs.”

OCTOBER 2019 – Nam v. Moschino USA, 1:19-cv-09462 (SDNY).

The same photographer that filed suit against Marc Jacobs is also taking on Moachino. According to Patrick Nam’s second lawsuit, “This action arises out of [Moschino’s] unauthorized reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of model Golden Barbie at New York’s fashion week, [which is] owned and registered by Nam, a New York based professional photographer.” (Note: Golden Barbie is model Jasmine Sanders’ Instagram account handle).

Nam claims that “Moschino is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publically display, distribute and/or use the photograph,” and thus, has run afoul of copyright law by posting.

OCTOBER 2019 – Splash News and Picture Agency, LLC v. Lopez2:19-cv-08598 (C.D. Cal.).

After New York-based brand Monse landed on the receiving end of a copyright infringement lawsuit for posting a photo of Jennifer Lopez in one of its dresses on Instagram in July and on the heels of Versace being sued before that for posting a photo on its account of Lopez wearing an all-over Versace print look to MTV’s Video Music Awards last year, the singer-slash-actress is now facing an infringement suit of her own after she posted a photo of herself and Alex Rodriguez on her heavily-followed Instagram account.

According to the complaint that Splash News filed in a California federal court last week, the Los Angeles-headquartered paparazzi photo agency is “the owner and exclusive copyright holder of a photographic image” captured by photographer Elder Ordonez in November 2017, which depicts “Lopez holding hands with her boyfriend Alex Rodriguez while out for breakfast in New York City.”  

OCTOBER 2019 – Eva’s Photography, Inc. v. Fenty Corp.1:19-cv-09120 (SDNY).

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Rihanna’s Fenty Corp. is being sued over a photo of Gigi Hadid. Eva’s Photography, Inc. asserts in a new lawsuit that Rihanna’s fashion venture, which she launched this year with luxury powerhouse LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, shared a photo of Gigi Hadid wearing a corseted dark denim top from the brand’s debut drop on its Instagram story. The problem, according to the New York-based professional photography company? Fenty Corp. didn’t have permission to do so. 

Eva’s asserts in its complaint, which was filed in a New York federal court on October 1, it “has at all times been the sole owner of all right, title and interest in and to the photograph” of Hadid pictured on a New York City street last month, including the copyright in the photo. 

This case settled in January 2020.

SEPTEMBER 2019 – Edward Opinaldo v. Spring London LTD., 1:19-cv-08788 (SDNY).

Spring London has landed on the wrong end of a copyright infringement suit. According to the complaint filed in New York federal court by counsel for Edward Opinaldo, the “leading fashion and luxury brand development, communications, digital, VIP and PR agency” has run afoul of the law by posting a photo that he took of actress Olivia Munn in June on its Instagram account – to promote its client Chalayan – without his permission.

Opinaldo says that he licensed the image of Munn to the Daily Mail, only to have Spring London “copy [it] from the Daily Mail and cropped off [his] watermark” before posting in on their Instagram account. “Spring London did not license the photograph from [Opinaldo] for its Instagram page, nor did Spring London have [his] permission or consent to publish the photograph on its Instagram page,” the complaint asserts.

SEPTEMBER 2019 – Robert Barbera v. Mode Public Relations, 1:19-cv-08636 (SDNY).

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A photo of Bella Hadid is at the center of another copyright infringement lawsuit. According to the complaint that repeat plaintiff Robert Barbara filed on September 17, Mode Public Relations is on the hook for posting an image that he took of the supermodel to its Instagram in July without receiving his authorization or paying the licensing fee his photos command in order to legally do so.

The paparazzi photographer asserts that despite opyright “reproducing and publicly displaying the photograph [of Hadid] on its Instagram Page” this summer in promotion of New York-based womenswear brand Hesperios, “Mode PR is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publically display, distribute and/or use the photo.”

SEPTEMBER 2019 – Felipe Ramales v. Victoria Beckham Inc., VB Beauty (US) LLC, and Victoria Beckham, 1:19-cv-08650 (SDNY).

Former Spice Girl-turned-fashion figure Victoria Beckham is on the receiving end of a new copyright infringement lawsuit after posting a photo of herself to her Instagram story this summer. According to the complaint that counsel for Felipe Ramales filed in a New York federal court on Tuesday, Beckham did not seek the photographer’s “permission or consent” before posting the image of herself on her Instagram account nor did she – or her corporate entities, Victoria Beckham INC. and VB Beauty LLC – pay to license it.

SEPTEMBER 2019 – Robert O’Neil v. Jelena Noura Hadid aka Gigi Hadid, 1:19-cv-8522 (SDNY).

Just two months after prevailing in a copyright infringement lawsuit in connection with a photo she posted of herself on her Instagram account, Gigi Hadid has been named in a new lawsuit – this time for the “unauthorized reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of English singer and songwriter Zayn Malik.” According to the copyright suit filed by professional photographer Robert O’Neil in a New York federal court on Friday, Hadid added a photo of former boyfriend Malik to her Instagram story in June 2018. The problem? She did not have O’Neil’s permission to do so.

SEPTEMBER 2019 – Elatab v. Canary Yellow LLC1:19-cv-08114 (SDNY).

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Virgil Abloh is being sued for copyright infringement for posting a photo of Bella Hadid. According to the complaint that Jawad Elatab filed in a New York federal court on Friday, the buzzy designer posted a photo of Hadid – toting a customized suitcase from a collaboration between his brand Off-White and Rimowa – to his Instagram account without paying to license the photo from the copyright-holding photographer or obtaining his “permission or consent to publish the photograph on [his] Instagram Story,” thereby giving rise to a copyright infringement dispute.

Elatab asserts in his complaint that Virgil Abloh – or better yet, Abloh’s corporate entity Canary Yellow LLC, which interestingly bears the name of a company that FUBU president Daymond John thought up back in 2003 – engaged in the “reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of model Bella Hadid,” one that he took of the supermodel in New York in March. While Vogue and the Daily Mail appear to have licensed the image from Elatab (i.e., entered into a contract in which the photographer grants specific rights to another party to use his/her image(s) in a specific capacity in exchange for compensation) – by way of photo agency Backgrid, the same cannot be said for Abloh, according to the complaint.

AUGUST 2019 – Opinaldo v. Adeam International Corporation1:19-cv-07719 (SDNY) and Opinaldo v. The Wall Group, LLC, 1:19-cv-07720 (SDNY).

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Images of Emily Ratajkowski and Annabelle Wallis are at the center of two new paparazzi lawsuits. Photographer Edward Opinaldo has filed copyright infringement suits in a New York federal court in Monday, asserting that womenswear brand Adeam and creative management powerhouse The Wall Group posted images that he took of the buzzy model and English actress on their respective Instagram accounts without licensing the images or receiving his permission to do so.

AUGUST 2019 – Barbera v. Alexander Wang, Inc.,1:19-cv-07540 (SDNY)

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Photographer Robert Barbera is taking on Alexander Wang in a copyright lawsuit after the designer allegedly posted a photo of Dua Lipa wearing to his Instagram without licensing it or obtaining the photographer’s authorization. According to the complaint, which was filed in a New York federal court, Barbera claims that he “photographed English singer and songwriter Dua Lipa” when she was leaving the Bowery Hotel in New York in early April 2019.

While Barbera licensed the photo to other companies to use, “Alexander Wang ran the photograph on [its Instagram and Facebook accounts]” to promote its clothing” without paying to license the photo. In particular, Wang made use of the image of the singer wearing its $795 Mini Shirt Dress and $795 Halo Bag to implement shoppable links on its Instagram page to enable consumers to easily identify and shop the products, noting that the dress and bag were “now available” for purchase.

JULY 2019 – Vila v. Monse LLC, 1:19-cv-07078 (SDNY) 

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Monse is in trouble for posting a photo of Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez to its Instagram account without licensing it from the copyright-holder photographer who took it. That is what Carlos Vila asserts in the lawsuit he filed against the New York-based brand in a Manhattan federal court. According to Vila, Monse – which was launched to much fashion industry fury in 2016 by now-Oscar de la Renta creative directors Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia – “is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publicly display, distribute and/or use the photograph.” Although, the photo at issue did appear to have been licensed to Vogue to use on its site. 

More than that, the brand was not legally allowed to “falsify, remove and/or alter” the copyright management information, which identified Vila “as the photographer of the photograph.”

JULY 2019 – Splash News and Picture Agency, LLC v. Nicki Minaj, 2:19-cv-05822 (C.D.Cal.) 

In July, Splash News filed suit against “rapper, singer, songwriter, actress, businesswoman, and entrepreneur” professionally known as Nicki Minaj” for allegedly “copying” seven different photos – including ones depicting her “in a multi-colored Oscar De La Renta gown outside of the Harper’s Bazaar Party in New York City,” “in a plaid Burberry outfit in New York City,” “at a NYFW party in New York,” and in “a cheetah print outfit” – which appear to have been licensed to and taken from the Daily Mail – and “distributed them” for display to her 91 million Instagram followers.  

The well-known photo agency claims that the photos at issue “are creative, distinctive, and valuable,” and because of Minaj’s “celebrity status, [as well as] the photographs’ quality and visual appeal,” Splash News and the photographer it represents “stood to gain revenue from licensing” them. However, Minaj’s unauthorized use of the photos “made them immediately available to [her] 91 million followers and others, consumers of entertainment news … who would otherwise be interested in viewing licensed versions of the photographs in the magazines and newspapers that are [Splash News’] customers.” As a result, Minaj directly impaired “the existing and future market for the original photos.”

JULY 2019 – Vila v. Alison Lou LLC, 1:19-cv-06634 (SDNY) 

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Carlos Vila, a professional photographer, sued celebrity-favored jewelry company Alison Loufor copyright infringement. According to Vila’s complaint, which was filed in a New York federal court in July, Alison Lou – whose Instagram includes a running series of stories called page “Loucitings,” in which it documents sighting of celebrities and influencers wearing its jewelry – postedaphotograph he took featuringmodel Emily Ratajkowski in a pair of its earrings. 

“Alison Lou did not license the photographs from [Mr. Vila] for its Instagram Story, nor did Alison Lou have [his] permission or consent to publish the photographs on its Instagram Story,” the complaint asserts. 

JULY 2019 – Barbera v. Christian Siriano Holdings LLC, 1:19-cv-06155 (SDNY) 

A photo of Lady Gaga from May 2018 has landed Christian Siriano in hot water. The musician-slash-Oscar winner stepped out in New York City in a striking crimson frock from the designer’s Fall/Winter 2018 collection to much media fanfare and paparazzi attention. One of the photographers who captured an image of Gaga, Robert Barbera, who asserts in his lawsuit that Christian Siriano posted the image on its Instagram without licensing the photo or otherwise seeking and receiving his authorization to do so. 

JULY 2019 – Peterson v. Frame LA Brands, LLC, 1:19-cv-06583 (SDNY) 

Photographer Christopher Peterson filed suit against Frame LA in a New York federal court in July, accusing the Los Angeles-based brand of copyright infringement in connection with a photo of Karlie Kloss. According to Peterson’s complaint, he took photos of the model while out in New York City in March that he licensed to the Daily Mail, which ran them alongside an caption noting that she was “a black leather blazer from FRAME over an off-white button-down top with a black pencil skirt, dark pantyhose and black heels.”

However, unlike the Daily Mail, which paid Peterson to use the imagery, Frame LA posted the images of Kloss as part of an Instagram “without a license”and without his “permission or consent” as a “tool to promote and sell its products,” thereby running afoul of copyright law. 

JULY 2019 – BackGrid USA, Inc v. Citizens of Humanity, LLC, 2:19-cv-06078 (C.D. Cal.)

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BackGrid – one of Hollywood’s largest celebrity photograph agencies, which “owns the copyrights to [millions of] in-demand celebrity photographs – filed suit against Citizens of Humanity in a California federal court, accusing the denim-maker and its brand AGOLDE of posting images of Sofia Richie, Jessica Biel, Zayn Malik, and Caitlyn and Kendall Jenner without its authorization. 

According to Backgrid’s complaint, which was filed in mid-July, while each of the licenses it grants to “top-tier outlets, such as TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, New York Post, People Magazine, Huffington Post, the Daily Mail, as well as many television stations, newspapers and other prominent media outlets throughout the world,” is worth “up to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Citizens of Humanity posted at least 4 of its images “on various media outlets including Twitter and Instagram to promote their clothing items” without licensing them. 

JULY 2019 – Peterson v. Marc Jacobs International, 1:19-cv-06121 (SDNY) 

Marc Jacobs is being sued by photographer Christopher Peterson for posting one of his photos to its Instagram without licensing the photo or receiving permission from the professional photographer. According to the complaint that he filed against the New York-based brand in New York federal court on July 1, Peterson claims that he took a photo of supermodel Bella Hadid – in a Marc Jacobs sweatshirt – and her boyfriend The Weeknd in New York in January, only to have Marc Jacobs post the copyright-protected image to its Instagram account the very next day. 

Peterson asserts that while he licensed the photo to the Daily Mail, which “ran an article that featured the photograph,” he did not license it to Marc Jacobs. Yet, he claims that the LVMH-owned brand posted the image on its heavily-followed Instagram account “to promote Marc Jacobs clothing,” namely, the sweatshirt that Hadid was wearing, which was on sale at the time, and was sure to “crop off the watermark [stating, ‘Christopher Peterson’].” 

MAY 2019 – Barbera v. Ariana Grande and Grandari, Inc., 1:19-cv-04349 (SDNY)

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Robert Barbera is taking on Ariana Grande. According to the Splash News photographer’s suit, which was filed in a New York federal court, he “photographed singer, songwriter and actress Adriana Grande,” who turned around and posted two of the photos on her Instagram account this summer to promote the release of her “Sweetener” album without his authorization.  

Just a couple of months after it was filed, the case was settled out of court in mid-July.

MAY 2019 – Barbera v. CBS Interactive, Inc., 1:19-cv-04298 (SDNY) 

Photographer Robert Barbera, who has been on a litigation spree as of late, filed a copyright infringement against CBS, alleging that the media giant infringed his rights in a photo of Justin Bieber by “reproducing and publicly displaying it” in an article documenting the “most liked Instagram pics” on March 13. According to Barbera, “CBS did not license the photograph from [him]” for its article, “nor did CBS have [his] permission or consent to publish the photograph on its website.” 

APRIL 2019 – Barbera v. Versace USA, Inc., 1:19-cv-03563 (SDNY)

Versace is being sued over photos of Jennifer Lopez. The American arm of the famed Italian design house has been slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit for posting two photos on its highly-followed Instagram account of the musician-slash- actress in head-to-toe Versace at an MTV Video Music Awards after party this summer without licensing the photos or otherwise seeking and receiving photographer Robert Barbera’s authorization to do so. 

According to Barbera’s complaint, which was filed in a New York federal court in April, Versace “willfully, intentionally, and purposefully, in disregard of and indifference to [his] rights … infringed [his] copyright in the photographs by reproducing and publicly displaying [them] on [Instagram].” As it turns out, “Versace is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publicly display, distribute and/or use the photographs” of Lopez, a longtime friend of the brand, who made headlines after attending the Grammy Awards in February 2000 in a plunging green Versace silk chiffon dress. 

MARCH 2019 – BackGrid USA, Inc. v. Fashion Nova, Inc., 2:19-cv-01476 (C.D.Cal.) 

According to BackGrid’s complaint, which was filed in a California federal court in March, it is in the business of licensing its copyright-protected photos of well-known celebrities to other outlets in furtherance of deals that are worth “up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Despite using BackGrid’s images of Kourtney Kardashian, Blac Chyna, Amber Rose, and 21 Savage on its site, BackGrid asserts that Fashion Nova never licensed or received its authorization, and instead, opted to simply “appropriate [the copyrighted images] for itself.” 

JANUARY 2019 – Xclusive-Lee, Inc., v. Jelena Noura “Gigi” Hadid, 1:19-cv-00520 (EDNY) 

Supermodel Gigi Hadid was sued for a second time in federal court in Brooklyn, New York in January 2019. According to Xclusive-Lee’s complaint, Hadid “copied and posted” one of its photos of her to her Instagram “without license or permission from Xclusive,” prompting the photo agency to file – and ultimately, lose – a copyright infringement suit.   

Hadid ultimately prevail when the court dismissed the case, finding that Xclusive-Lee had not registered the photo at issue before filing suit.

FEBRUARY 2018 – Odell Beckham Jr v. Splash News and Picture Agency, LLC and Miles Diggs, 2:18-cv-01001 (E.D. La.)

In a role reversal, football star Odell Beckham Jr., filed suit against photographer Miles Diggs and California-based Splash News & Picture Agency for allegedly attempting to “extort” him into paying $40,000 after he posted a photo of himself on his Instagram account. “The audacity of Splash News to demand payment from Beckham – the very person who provided value to the Photos – is shocking, reeks of bad faith, and emphasizes the utterly troll-ish behavior of Diggs and Splash,” the complaint asserted. 

Beckham alleged that Diggs sold or licensed the images to Splash, which then licensed them to a variety of gossip websites, including TMZ, and DailyMail.com, in exchange for a royalty fee. However, “The only reason that the photos have any value is because they depict Beckham,” according to the complaint. “Yet, Beckham received no compensation from Diggs or Splash.”

That case ultimately settled out of court in February 2019. 

JANUARY 2018 – Splash News and Picture Agency, LLC, v. Jessica Simpson, et al, 2:17-cv-00591 (C.D.Cal.) 

According to Splash News’ complaint, which was filed in federal court in California, Simpson “or someone acting on her behalf” took a copyright protected photo from the Daily Mail’s website and published it on Simpson’s social media accounts. While Splash News alleges that the Daily Mail obtained a limited license to publish the photo online in August, Simpson, herself, did not receive authorization to post the photo.

That case ultimately settled out of court in March 2018. 

SEPTEMBER 2017 – Cepeda v. Jelena Noura “Gigi” Hadid and IMG Worldwide, Inc., 1:17-cv-00989 (E.D. Va.)

image via complaint

Gigi Hadid was slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit after posting a photo of herself on her Instagram and Twitter accounts last summer. According to a the suit filed by photographer Peter Cepeda in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the famous model posted a photo of herself – which Cepeda took and in which he holds exclusive rights – amounting to an “act of infringement [that] was willful and intentional, in disregard of and with indifference to the rights of Cepeda.”

That case ultimately settled out of court in December 2017. 

APRIL 2017 – Xposure Photos UK Ltd. v. Khloe Kardashian et al, 2:17-cv-03088 (C.D.Cal.) 

Khloe Kardashian made headlines in April 2017 when she was sued by Xposure Photos for posting a photo of herself on her Instagram account last fall. According to its suit, Xposure claimed that the reality television star ran afoul of federal copyright law by posting a photo of herself “going for a meal at David Grutman’s Miami restaurant, Komodo” without licensing the photo from Xposure, the copyright holder.

Following mediation, that case settled in February 2018, with Kardashian later saying that she “had to pay a lot” in connection with the settlement.