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EXCLUSIVE: Celeb Photo Agency Sues Hollywood.com For $7.8 Million

Paparazzi can be downright aggressive when it comes to chasing down celebrities, but the agencies that employ these photographers are proving themselves just as pugnacious.

X17, one of the leading photo agencies, has just filed a lawsuit against Hollywood.com, alleging that the website infringed its copyright on dozens of photographs, including pictures of actress Reese Witherspoon with ex-boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal, pictures of Britney Spears, and more.

X17 is asserting that Hollywood.com engaged in at least 52 alleged acts of willful copyright infringement. It wants maximum statutory damages of up to $150,000 per act, resulting in a claim of at least $7.8 million.

X17 says that Hollywood.com is claiming it is shielded from liability via the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which gives ISPs some immunity if they aggressively take down copyrighted material upon notice. The agency, however, is disputing this, saying that Hollywood.com has failed to designate an agent to the Copyright Office as per the terms of the DMCA. (A rep from Hollywood.com couldn't be reached for comment.)

This isn't the first copyright lawsuit that X17 has pursued.

In 2007, the agency made headlines going after Perez Hilton for posting photographs without permission. After a judge refused to accept Hilton's "fair use" defense, it was privately settled.

The latest action by X17 also marks the second multimillion-dollar copyright lawsuit by a paparazzi outfit in the past month.

In October, another agency, Marvix Photo, sued Fanpop, the operator of a network of online fan clubs, for posting 21 photographs of singer Katy Perry on vacation in a bikini. In that pending lawsuit, Marvix claimed it is owed at least $3.15 million.

Based on these new lawsuits, it's easy to wonder whether the biggest threat to the continued vitality of the paparazzi market is not aggressive privacy laws, but rather a permissive online environment that threatens, for better or worse, to erode the commercial value of these images.