Wednesday, April 25, 2007

War escalates between paparazzi and Perez Hilton

At issue is the use of a video of the dead Anna Nicole Smith on Hilton's website.

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By Rachel Abramowitz
Times Staff Writer

April 25, 2007

The battleground consists of such photographic revues as "Hoochie Mama" (the inner life of Beyoncé Knowles), "Posh Hairy Beast" (Victoria Beckham) and "Britney in Black Hoodie at CVS" (the pop star healing her wounds amid the shampoo and Band-Aids of her local drugstore).

But it has been Anna Nicole Smith's untimely — and highly lucrative — demise that has sparked World War III between a raft of the nation's most ardent paparazzo agencies and the lone blogger known as Perez Hilton, a.k.a. 29-year-old Mario Lavandeira.

That infamous video of the dead Smith being carried out on a stretcher belongs to Splash News and Picture Agency and Splash contributor Ralph Notaro, so Splash President Gary Morgan is angry that Hilton played it on his cheeky gossip site,

"It's unfair to the business people who bought it and paid a lot of money for it — he's using it without paying," says Morgan, who along with rival agencies Bauer-Griffin, Flynet Pictures, Insight News & Features and London Entertainment filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Hilton demanding more than $7 million in damages for posting celebrity pictures on his website without paying for their use.

The photo agencies warned Hilton in December about using their material, but the blogger, who gets 2.5 million hits a day, has appeared blithe in the face of their threats. His attorney Bryan Freedman contends that Hilton's blog falls under the fair use exception to copyright laws. (Hilton often doodles on the photos, adding, for instance, white trails of "cocaine" dripping from celebrity noses.)

In November, Hilton was sued by another celebrity photo agency, X17 Inc., for using their photographs, and Universal Pictures sued him for posting a topless photograph of Jennifer Aniston that was allegedly taken from outtakes of "The Break-Up." Both suits are pending.

Contacted at his "office" at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Boulevard, Hilton said, "I would love to see the lawsuit. I would love to see if I am the only one being sued. Is there something I am doing differently from the thousands of gossip bloggers out there that would mean singling me out? But regardless, I don't think I am doing anything wrong or illegal."