Hollywood Docket: Gigi Hadid's Photo Fight; 'This Land' Public Domain Dispute; Brawling Beers

A roundup of entertainment legal news involving Gigi Hadid, Richard Gere, Miller Lite and others.
Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

Gigi Hadid's attorney says a lawsuit against her for posting a paparazzi picture of herself on Instagram is a "misuse" of the Copyright Act, according to a letter sent to a New York federal judge.

The model is one of many celebrities to be sued recently after seeing a photo online and posting it on social media without a license. Xclusive in January sued Hadid for copyright infringement, claiming she posted without permission a photo of herself and knew that wasn't OK because she'd been sued for doing it before.

“It is one thing for paparazzi to exploit Ms. Hadid’s fame and image for their own profit, but it is quite another to bring a meritless copyright case in an effort to shake her down," said the model's attorney John Quinn in a statement.  

Quinn told U.S. District Court Judge Pamela Chen in an April 1 letter that Xclusive's complaint is an extension of a business built around exploiting the images of famous people for profit. 

"In short, this lawsuit appears to be nothing more than an effort to extract money from Ms. Hadid, presumably based on a calculation that, even in a meritless case like this, the anticipated costs of litigation would cause Ms. Hadid to pay out a relatively modest settlement," writes Quinn. "This sort of misuse of the Copyright Act should not be countenanced."

Quinn goes on to preview his arguments that Xclusive hasn't obtained a copyright registration for the photo, which a March ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court made a prerequisite for filing such a suit, and hasn't alleged a relationship with the photographer who took the photo and would be its owner. He also argues that Hadid's posting of the photo is protected by fair use and that she had an implied license to use it. 

"Ms. Hadid permitted the photographer to take a photograph of her and, by posing, contributed to the photograph’s protectable elements," writes Quinn. "From this interaction a license can, and should, be implied permitting Ms. Hadid to use the photograph — at least in ways that do not interfere with the photographer’s ability to profit."

Xclusive's lawyer Michael Reese fired back in his own letter to the judge. 

"Hadid’s assertion that paparazzi 'make a living by exploiting her image and selling it for profit' is not relevant to copyright infringement liability," writes Reese. "In fact, her statement is disingenuous considering Hadid monetizes her brand by copying and posting the same images of herself taken by paparazzi (or others) to her social media accounts, including Instagram, all without compensating the authors or copyright holders for the income she generates in return." 

Reese also says the argument that Hadid is protected by fair use is "categorically false."

The formal motions backing up the letters are due in May.

In other entertainment legal news:

— It's a war of the budget beers; MillerCoors is suing Anheuser-Busch over a Super Bowl commercial and subsequent ad campaign that claims Miller Lite and Coors Lite contain high-fructose corn syrup, while Bud Light is free of the notorious artificial sweetener. MillerCoors claims its rival learned through consumer research that people prefer not to ingest the substance, especially women, and most don't know the difference between regular corn syrup and the high-fructose kind. Miller uses the former in its fermentation process, according to the complaint, but none is present in the finished beer. "To be abundantly clear, there is no corn syrup (or HFCS) in the final glass, can, or bottle of Miller Lite or Coors Light that consumers ultimately drink," states the complaint. "However, AB’s Campaign is designed to cause consumers to mistakenly conclude that these MillerCoors beers do contain corn syrup or HFCS — a conclusion that is demonstrably false." 

— The lawsuit over Richard Gere's film adaptation of the book Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia has quietly settled. Gere sued Random Acts Entertainment in April 2018, claiming he was being extorted for $500,000 after creative differences arose between him and his producing partners. Days later, the company countersued the actor, claiming he was trying to steal the project. A notice of settlement was filed April 3.

— Voiceover talent agent Dean Panaro is asking the court to grant summary judgment in his favor in a lawsuit from his former employer, Abrams Artists Agency. The agency in October sued Panaro, claiming he violated his employment agreement by resigning before the end of its term, taking a job with a competitor, soliciting clients to leave with him and directing them to stop paying commissions to AAA. In the motion, Panaro says his employment agreement was mutually terminated and therefore the causes of action for breaches of contract, good faith and fair dealing and fiduciary duty should be tossed (along with the remaining claims). Panaro argues the lawsuit is merely a "scare tactic" to discourage other employees from leaving.

— Members of funk band War won the latest round in a legal battle with their publisher, as a California appeals court reversed a ruling against the group. The current members of War in October 2014 sued their publisher Far Out Music for breach of contract, claiming it failed to adequately pay public performance royalties. L.A. County Superior Court judge William Fahey in September 2016 granted summary judgment in the publisher's favor. The War members appealed and in March the appellate court found their interpretation of the 1972 contract at issue is reasonable. The band members are represented by Kenneth Freundlich, Michael Kaiser and Max Sprecher. Far Out Music is represented by Joseph Klapach and Gregory Bodell. (Read the opinion here.)

— A New York federal judge has declined to toss a lawsuit alleging Woody Guthrie's iconic folk song "This Land" is in the public domain. In June 2016 the attorneys responsible for freeing "Happy Birthday" from copyright restraints filed a lawsuit on behalf of the duo behind Satori — claiming the melody is nearly identical to a gospel hymn from a century ago and the primary lyrics weren't registered for copyright. They paid $45.50 for a mechanical license to produce and distribute their cover of the song, but they don't want to seek permission to create a derivative work in order to release a second version with a different melody. Defendants asked the court to dismiss the suit, but on March 27 U.S. District Court judge Deborah Batts sided with the band. Batts found the duo has standing to bring their suit with regard to the federal claims, but dismissed their state law claims because they're preempted by the Copyright Act.