Photographer Sues Celebrity Blogger Perez Hilton for Copyright Infringement

Photographer Sues Celebrity Blogger Perez Hilton for Copyright Infringement

Interesting story of the week. Famous blogger, Perez Hilton is being sued by NYTimes Photographer Robert Caplin, who also runs the Photo Brigade. Perez Hilton is being sued for copyright infringement of 14 photos of Glee star Darren Criss (who doesn't love Darren Criss?). Robert is seeking $150,000 per photo which equals out to an astonishing $2,100,000 dollars.


Actor Darren Criss

As if having your celebrity portraits ripped off by another celebrity who works in the blogging business (and should know better) isn't bad enough, what's especially painful is that Hilton slapped his own watermarks onto the photos and linked them to a site for his readers to shop from.

Robert Caplin says that he contacted Hilton and that the blogger apologized and agreed to take the photos down. As expected the photos were never removed. The photos are amazing and are definitely worth defending in a court room setting. Question is, do you agree with the price tag for each individual photo for damages? If anything this should make a statement in the entertainment blogging world.

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Robert Caplin

Via: The Phoblographer

Photos used with permission.

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39 Comments

It is not a price tag. The photographer is suing for damages not selling his work. There is a difference. Ultimately the amount in damages will be settled either between the two parties or by a judge. The question the writer asks is therefore not the right one. The question really should be in a case where someone knowingly rips off someone else's work, how much should it hurt when he gets caught.

Rebecca Britt's picture

You know I agree, I'll change the wording.

Andrew Williams's picture

I agree it should hurt when someone does this kind of thing. It should hurt a lot more than 2.1 million.

The real question is why Caplin called him first. I would just go after him, tooth and nail. Theft is theft. Thieves get punished. Celebrities who should know better should be punished the hardest. When it comes to theft, there is no nice.

I don't think there is anything wrong with giving someone a chance to be a decent human being, regardless of their celebrity.

Someone accidentally and honestly posts a picture on a blog - an apology is enough. Say you let one person use the picture and they gave it to a site etc.

Someone who should know better uses the picture on a moneymaking site - invoice them the highest rate you can reasonably expect.

Someone who has been warned already, and uses the pictures directly to make money? Throw the book at them and make an example.

Anthony Woodruffe's picture

Gotta reply to this one.

Even If 'give' an image to someone, it doesn't license them to distribute or sell that image unless I've stated so in my agreement.

Perez Hilton thinks he is untouchable. He is arrogant and annoying! Sue the pants off of him!!

If this happens to you, check out ImageRights.com.

Who's Darren Criss?

^ ^ ^ hahahahaha! My thoughts exactly! No clue who that is but obviously doesn't excuse the copyright issue. Make an example of him Caplin!!

Lol I feel like i'm the only one tht knows Darren Criss does that make me weird.

Rebecca Britt's picture

Uh no. Darren Criss is supermegafoxyawesomehot!!!

If you didn't get the reference then you don't know who Darren Criss is.

Yes the price is right.

I absolutely agree that Caplin should get the full amount allowed by law. Hilton watermarked the images as if he took them, and used them to try to make money. No excuse there.

I do agree he should get compensated. But 2.1 million. I'm sorry, any photographer that makes 2.1 million off of candid celebrity shots needs to be making the front page of Fstoppers to let us know his secrets. That's not what they are worth. I agree he should get something, but that much - come on, seriously? And you wonder why every other country makes fun of America because of our outrageous lawsuits.

Brian, I think you have a misunderstanding about copyright & intellectual property. Also, I'm pretty certain they were NOT "candid celebrity shots". They were portraits commissioned by the NY TIMES.

As to your statement that no photographer should "make 2.1 million", it doesn't matter what profession it is, copyright infringement is a federal offense when done on purposes for personal financial gain and/or commercial use. In this case, this is how Hilton makes his living. The penalties for violating copyright are punishable with prison time, $200 to up to $150,000 per incident which in this case is per photo. He has every right and is well within the law to go after for what he's going. The violations were done on purpose and he was even warned to take them down.

Unfortunately Perez Hilton expects most photographers to lack this knowledge and just went ahead thought he was dealing with someone who would not care or know much about the value of intellectual property.

Spy Black's picture

Somehow I can see Perez looking forward to putting in some prison time...

Ha!!

Alexis, by no means am I saying that copyright infringement is okay, nor am I saying that Perez shouldn't be brought to justice for what he's done. The only thing that always rubs me the wrong way is when someone is suing someone for an absurd sum of money that makes doesn't add up. You are able to sue someone for 'damages'. Basically, how much money would that photographer have made if he was able to sell the same photos to someone else. . . even the best, top of the line tabloid/newspaper in the world. I guarantee you it would be 2.1 million dollars. Thus, why sue for that much.

Needless to say, I'm sure Perez can afford it. But odds are, he has insurance that will cover 'carelessness' through his business. Which means for you and I, that lawsuits like that raise insurance rates for a massive ripple effect of industries. Again, this is a soap box of mine that dislikes individuals that use lawsuits as away to 'get rich quick' - if he was suing for $150,000 - okay. But $2,100,000 - no newspaper photographer makes that amount of money with 14 photos in the world.

Hey Brian, thanks for the reply. I still think you're mistaken in your view. "an absurd sum of money that doesn't add up" is not the issue. Just b/c you don't agree with the price doesn't mean it's absurd. The law allows for up to $150,000 per incident of infringement, and in this case there were multiply offenses. He's well within his right to go after the maximum amount.

The amount is not absurd at all. The copyright law is NOT based on "Basically, how much money would that photographer have made if he was able to sell the same photos to someone else". or with your belief that "no newspaper photographer makes that amount of money with 14 photos in the world." Infringement violations are clearly stated with the amount they are punishable by. Also what has to be taken into consideration is the amount of money/benefit that was gain from the infringement which is why those amounts are what they are and were set the by the law (200-150,000 per violation).

I don't understand why you feel he's trying to "get rich quick" and you're almost making the photographer sound like a fraud or schemer. He warned Hilton and told him take the images down & the warning was ignored. With your belief that he should only be allowed to sue for a maximum amount of 150,000, that would bring down the max allowed for copyright infringement to under 11k per incident (in this incident). If it goes to trial, that's up for the judge to decide. Seeing he the infringement was done on purpose, and the warning was ignored I don't think a judge will go that low. I personally fully support him & wish him the best.

If the images are registered and Caplin wins the law suit, Hilton is also responsible for all the legal fees for both parties. This should be a lesson to all photographers out there that our works has value and that the internet doesn't make everything free and that we should take copyright serious.

We may just have different views about "But odds are, he has insurance that will cover 'carelessness' through
his business. Which means for you and I, that lawsuits like that raise
insurance rates for a massive ripple effect of industries."

I personally don't pay "large sums" for my business insurance. If you believe that the prices for home owners insurance, business insurance, car insurance etc are too high, maybe you should tell all insurance companies to stop advertising on TV, during the Superbowl every commercial break. Instead of trying to regulate and bring down the amount for copyright infringement, perhaps we should be trying to bring down the amount of profits and bonuses insurance companies make and give out.

Luckily, I am fortunate enough to make enough money to justify insurance. But unlike you, Perez Hilton has a team of lawyers, insurance policies, and TV deals that mandate a certain amount of insurance coverage for these type of things. Do you have the same deal? I would assume not.

Yes, by no means am I saying Perez is in the right. That's not at all what I'm saying. But I'm speaking on a bigger issue of the lawsuits in this country are a little outrageous. Just because that's what the law states, well, there in lies the problem.

I would prefer the jail time for Perez versus the 2.1 million. That would set more precedent for other bloggers/writers/thief out their that may not be as financially well off. . .but everyone has the ability to serve time in jail. That would be a much better form of justice versus 2.1 million dollars (in my opinion). I'm fine with reasonable compensation, but be honest - give me $2.1 million justification in loss damages from 14 photos of a B/C list celebrity.

Again - I don't think Perez is right - but I just disagree with the sum of money he would be getting just because 'that's what the law states' (which at the end of the day, is the thing that needs to be fixed).

"Basically, how much money would that photographer have made if he was able to sell the same photos to someone else. . ."

That logic doesn't make any sense because then there wouldn't be an incentive to buy anything ever again: Just steal it, worst thing that can happen is you're being sentenced to pay the original sum that you should have paid in the first place.

Should Perez be found guilty the amount he'll have to pay HAS to be higher than the asking price, or else the whole going to court thing would be pointless. How high should the amount be? Caplin has one idea, but in the end that's up to the court. Caplin's demand is only the highest possible sum that's on the table.

Insurance does not cover 'copyright infringement', for which there are punitive damages. In such a lawsuit, those damages are not in relation to the price of the individual photos, or the price associated with the shoot itself. It is a limit as defined by precedents in other rulings of similar happening in accordance with what the law allows. Most instances of copyright infringement that are reported come across in the tech field, so people are accustomed to seeing the huge numbers tagged with big name products, such as the iPhone 5, Galaxy S3, or other gadgets that stand to make a company a substantial amount of money, based on major investment in research. What is happening in this case is along the same lines, as Perez Hilton, or one of his companies, stands to benefit from the creative work of another, and being in California, those precedents are very high per instance of infringement. I think you are missing the operative term of 'punitive' damages, which are set to discourage. Would $300 per image discourage you from doing it again? Maybe if you aren't a celebrity, and $300 covers a couple of your monthly bills. Would you argue with the RIAA and MPAA that $2800 per offense for downloading a movie or song is too much, since that same song could be had for $0.99 or $19.99, respectively?

A man suing another for breaking a federal law is an outrageous lawsuit? Maybe lawsuits like a man trying to break into a home, falling through their skylight then landing on a knife, then sues the family who's house he was breaking into. This? Get real man.

Steven - you are exactly right! Both cases are absurd. And both reasons are why we pay large sums for home owners insurance, business insurance, car insurance the like. Again - both are ridiculous. I completely agree with you.

Maks Dikarev's picture

Brian, I think you missed the sarcasm in Steven's reply...

I'm going through a similar issue. Sold a photo to the local tourism bureau I work with - and a health care company stole my image and used it in a web ad. I'm trying to decide how to pursue them, are there any copyright lawyers here who could provide some insight? If I can't sue for copyright infringement, I may be able to sue since there's no model release and my wifes likeness was used without consent.

Go Caplin Go!
Perez Hilton is being a jerk as usual. Doing this in the first place is a jerk thing to do...watermarking them as if they're you're own makes him a double jerk...not taking them down after being caught red handed is a triple jerk.
Hope the judge hangs him...

Yes i agree. these types of people need to learn not to take others work.

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