On November 5, 2010, X17, Inc., a paparazzi photo agency, filed suit against Hollywood.com, LLC, owner, operator, and publisher of a series of popular celebrity fan sites and blogs, including www.hollywood.com and www.worldofjustin.com (dedicated to all things Justin Timberlake). The copyright infringement suit centers on Hollywood.com’s alleged “willful, wanton and brazen infringement” of at least 52 of X17 Inc.’s copyrighted photographs, though X17 Inc. notes that it may be able to identify thousands of other instances of infringement after discovery.
X17 Inc. argues that the copying, distribution, and public display of its photographs without its permission and despite several warnings to the contrary violates US, Canadian, and United Kingdom copyright law and subjects Hollywood.com to statutory damages totaling at least $7,800,000 under US law, with additional statutory damages under Canadian and United Kingdom law. X17, Inc. also requests a permanent injunction, actual damages, an accounting and disgorgement of profits, attorneys’ fees, and costs, as well as punitive damages under United Kingdom law.
Though no answer has been filed in the case, Hollywood.com has claimed that it is shielded by § 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which immunizes online service providers from liability for infringing content posted by others on its site. Hollywood.com currently publishes its DMCA policy on the www.hollywood.com website. X17 Inc. disputes the applicability of § 512 on several grounds, including Hollywood.com’s failure to designate a Copyright Agent prior to October 2008, and its failure to terminate repeat infringers, as required by the Act.
The suit is certainly not the first of its kind, as X17, Inc. has made similar claims against other bloggers, most notably Mario Lavandeira (better known by his pseudonym, “Perez Hilton”). That suit, which ended in an undisclosed settlement in June 2008, also involved the copying and publication of copyrighted photographs on a celebrity blog. There, Lavandeira claimed fair use of the photographs, a defense that Hollywood.com may argue in the present case. Hollywood.com is also no stranger to litigation, as it was sued in May 2010 for patent infringement.
Should the present suit proceed to trial, as requested by X17, Inc., it could shape the way bloggers and fan sites use copyrighted photographs in the future and could provide some needed guidance in the murky area of copyright fair use.