Image: Tiger Beat

In 1965, Charles “Chuck” Laufer and his brother Ira Laufer teamed up with television producer and host Lloyd Thaxton to start a magazine. Under the umbrella of the New York-based Laufer Company, they decided to target teen and adolescent girls with movie, music and fashion-centric articles, celebrity news and gossip, and posters of the dreamiest stars of the moment, which no shortage of girls would pull-out of the magazines and affix to their bedroom walls. In September of that year, Tiger Beat was born. 

The magazine put the likes of John Stamos, Luke Perry, and Scott Baio on its covers in the 1980s and early 1990s, and a new crop of teen heartthrobs like Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Devin Sawa, Andrew Keegan, and Joey Lawrence in their places in the late 90s, and continued to sell mags – more recently bearing the faces of Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers, and Twilight stars Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner – until December 2018, when it went entirely digital. 

And it is in that digital capacity that the publication is being sued for copyright infringement. According to the complaint that Paul Reiffer filed in a California federal court on Monday, Tiger Beat has run afoul of the law by “accessing [photos he took, including one of musician Ed Sheeran] … on [his] website or social media profiles, on other sites online, or in physical publications,” and then “copying, reproducing, displaying, and distributing the [photos]” on its website. 

Reiffer, who describes himself as an “accomplished and critically acclaimed photographer,” alleges that Tiger Beat “knew, or should have known, [that it] was not authorized” to publish the photos without licensing them or obtaining his consent, and thus, “infringed [his] copyrights by creating infringing derivative works” – namely, by superimposing Sheeran’s lyrics on the photos – and the “publishing them to the public.”

As a result of such allege copyright infringement, Reiffer claims that Tiger Beat and the other defendants “have obtained direct and indirect profits they would not otherwise have realized but for their infringement of [his] rights in the photo,” and as a result, he is “entitled to disgorgement of [the] profits directly and indirectly attributable to [their] infringement of [his] rights in the photos in an amount to be established at trial,” or $150,000 per infringement, whichever is greater. 

The lawsuit comes almost five years after a group of 17 investors raised $2 million “to buy and revamp the magazine,” as the New York Times reported back in August 2015, hoping to “give new life” to the once wildly-popular magazine, which “had lost much of its sheen.” The goal of the group of backers, who include banker and entrepreneur Mark Patricof, the television host Nick Cannon, basketball star Kevin Durant, music manager Scooter Braun, New York Giants chairman Steve Tisch, and British publication The Daily Mail? To turn the nostalgia-soaked magazine into “a media empire.”

While the landscape for media – celebrity news included – has “changed drastically” since Tiger Beat’s debut, with “digital sites like BuzzFeed and TMZ presenting tough competition,” according to the Times, the magazine’s backers pointed to a number of strengths for the title, including its focus on younger “centennials,” which is a less crowded space than millennial-focused media, as well as “the power of the Tiger Beat brand,” whichPatricoftold the Times “would appeal to advertisers.” 

A year later, the magazine revamp was underway. “Under the control of its well-connected new owners, led by Patricof, the magazine has already made a number of big strategy shifts,” Adweek reported in March 2016. “The most immediately noticeable is its covers: once recognizable for their cluttered collages of teen stars, Tiger Beat’s latest covers—printed on heavier paper stock—feature solo celebrities, from megastars like Taylor Swift to up-and-comers like Vine star Cameron Dallas. “We want to be relevant, and to be relevant, we have to break new people,” Patricof said. 

The publication’s branding was evolving – for the April/May 2016 issue, it would debut a new logo and design, as was its content (“still heavily celeb-focused,” per Adweek but also updated to include “a growing amount of lifestyle content aimed at a savvier teen audience”), and its focus on digital. 

Since then, any media attention surrounding the publication and its revamp has died down almost entirely. However, it is still publishing. Its latest article? How Chase Hudson, the Dolan Twins, Jojo Siwa & more stars are spending quarantine. 

*The case is Paul Reiffer v. Tiger Beat Media, Inc., et al, 2:20-cv-03195 (C.D.Cal).