Photobombing model sues Fiji for publicity rights; Fiji fights back with counter suit

Cannonball!

Kelly Steinbach, a Fiji Water ambassador professionally known as Kelleth Cuthbert, denies any “conscious decision” to photobomb celebrities on the red carpet of this year’s Golden Globes Award ceremony.

If that’s true, she owes her subconscious a big fat paycheck.

If you don’t know who Steinbach is, here’s a primer: She’s the model decked out in a blue dress holding a tray of Fiji Water bottles who wound up in seemingly every red-carpet picture taken during the Golden Globes. By some trick of fate or camera angle (is there any difference between them, really?), she wound up posing behind a plethora of Hollywood elites. From Idris Elba to Nicole Kidman, the “Fiji Water Girl,” as she was dubbed by viewers, kept it rock steady in photo after photo.

The internet lit up as a wave of memes featuring Steinbach made their way across the web. Our favorite is Fiji Water Girl sitting with her unshakable Fiji Water tray and her enigmatic smile behind Thelma and Louise in the getaway car. There are multitudes more.

Swimmingly

At first, everyone except Jamie Lee Curtis seemed happy with Steinbach’s newfound celebrity. “Not the worst way to spend a Sunday,” Steinbach posted to her Instagram account. She was rocketing to fame, and she knew it. She even nabbed a spot on a soap opera.

Fiji’s marketing tweets make the company seem absolutely thrilled: “We’re so glad everyone is talking about our water! *senses ominous presence* She’s right behind us, isn’t she? #FIJIwatergirl.”

In the wake of the Golden Globes, Steinbach claims that Fiji Water tried to capitalize on her newfound fame, kicking off a marketing campaign that included cardboard cutouts of her likeness. She maintained that her agreement with Fiji included no such use of her image, and sued, alleging misappropriation of likeness and violations of her right of publicity under California law and common law and seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The Takeaway

Fiji’s cross-complaint followed, written in a surprisingly harsh tone, with phrases like “attempted to extort,” “steep ransom” and “the irony is not lost on FIJI that Ms. Steinbach has now bitten the hand that feeds her by suing the very company that is entirely responsible for providing her the opportunity and the means to capitalize on her fleeting 15 minutes of internet fame.”

Fiji is maintaining that Steinbach explicitly agreed that her likeness was fair game in an agreement signed after the Golden Globes, when her agent and Fiji’s lawyers tried to hammer out a deal to keep the relationship going. This consulting agreement is at the center of this case and lends it a bizarre texture: Steinbach claims that the agreement was simply a prop used in photos of her supposed signing but was not a binding agreement.

Moreover, Fiji claims that Steinbach left the meeting with the only copy of the agreement and then destroyed it when she returned home after the meeting. Fiji has brought suit for breach of written and oral express contract as well as false promise.

When was the last time a right-to-publicity case centered on such an odd he said/she said situation? Grab the popcorn; hopefully the photobombed celebs will be called as witnesses.