Gossip columnist Perez Hilton sues paparazzi


Gossip columnist Perez Hilton has countersued a paparazzi agency that claims he used its celebrity photos without permission and got him temporarily booted off the Internet.

Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, contends that X17 Inc. hires illegal immigrants as photographers and routinely requires employees to work 12 hours a day or longer for "days or weeks at a time" without paying overtime.

X17 also "has engaged in a pattern and practice of intimidating photographers through threats of physical harm and violence, including grabbing other photographers, pushing them, trying to break their cameras, slashing their tires, and in at least one instance reportedly threatening them with a baseball bat," the suit contended.

The agency "may also rely on theft" to get photographs, the suit said, citing a report that X17 employees stole actress Lindsay Lohan's camera to obtain compromising photos that were sold to a national magazine.

In addition, X17 mislabels its employees as "independent contractors" in order, presumably, to avoid paying payroll taxes, workers' compensation insurance or other costs, the suit claims.

The suit, filed Monday in Superior Court, accuses X17 of unfair business practices and negligence.

A call seeking comment from an attorney representing X17 was not immediately returned Wednesday.

However, attorney John Tehranian told the Daily Journal of Los Angeles that there was "deep irony here" with "Mr. Lavandeira seeking to vindicate the rights of photographers, when he thinks people should give him their photos for free."

Lavandeira runs perezhilton.com, which posts tabloid photos of celebrities with scribbled commentary and doodles. X17 has sued Lavandeira in federal court, arguing that he used dozens of its photos without permission, payment or credit. That suit seeks $13 million in damages.

Lavandeira contends that he is protected by the "fair use" exception under copyright law because he uses the photographs for satire and commentary.

Complaints by X17 led an Australian Web hosting company, Crucial Paradigm, to yank Lavandeira's Web site last week but it went back up on another Internet provider.

Lavandeira's suit is retaliation, X17 co-owner Brandy Navarre told the Daily Journal.

"I think this was a desperate attempt by a desperate man trying to seek revenge against a company that got his Web site shut down," she said.

Lavandeira also has been sued by several other photo agencies and by Universal Studios, which claimed his site posted a stolen photo of Jennifer Aniston from the film "The Break-Up."