Gigi Hadid, CFDA Awards 2019

Gigi Hadid is off the hook for a copyright suit over a photograph she had posted of herself on her Instagram account. A New York federal judge on Thursday granted Hadid’s motion to dismiss the suit by Xclusive-Lee Inc., a New York-based company that said it held the copyright to the photo of her that had been taken in October as she walked out a building in New York City.

U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen ruled that the copyright claim for direct infringement fails because Xclusive hadn’t shown that it actually received a registration from the U.S. Copyright Office of the copyright in the photo when it filed the suit against Hadid in January. Even Xclusive acknowledged that it had merely applied for the copyright when it brought the suit, Chen noted.

Her finding hinged on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in March in a case about when exactly a copyright registration actually goes into effect. The high court had ruled in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com LLC  et al. that the registration goes into effect when the Copyright Office grants the registration.

“At most, the complaint alleges — and, indeed, Plaintiff appears to concede — that, at the time it commenced this action, it had only applied for a copyright in the photograph,” Chen wrote in her ruling Thursday.

The ruling doesn’t necessarily foreclose Xclusive from bringing the suit against Hadid in the future, and an attorney for the company said it plans to do so when the Copyright Office grants it the registration for the photo.

We had the unfortunate timing of filing the suit before Fourth Estate was decided,” said David Deal, an attorney for Xclusive, who said the company had filed for registration about nine months ago.

These are the real-life effects that Fourth Estate has on clients like mine,” he said. “They’ve got to wait, and the Copyright Office is so backed up that it can take up to six months to a year for the registration to be granted.”  

In Hadid’s motion to dismiss, her attorneys had argued that a suit seeking monetary damages from Hadid for her posting her own photo was an escalation of paparazzi menace. Xclusive had argued that Hadid is a brand and a model with an estimated $20 million net worth, and claimed that she doesn’t always own the intellectual property of the photos she posts of herself. Her Instagram account had more than 43 million followers at the time the suit was filed.

“We are pleased that the court granted our motion to dismiss this meritless case,” said John Quinn, a partner at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, and an attorney for Hadid. “The court’s decision recognized this case for what it was — an effort to extract a settlement from Ms. Hadid with little regard for the basic requirements of copyright law.”

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