On January 31, 2018, a model who went viral as the “Fiji Water Girl” after appearing prominently in the background at the Golden Globes’ red carpet event has sued Fiji Water Co. LLC in California sate court claiming it misappropriated her likeness (meaning used her identity without her consent) by creating cardboard cutouts of her for a marketing campaign.
Kelly Steinbach, who goes professionally by Kelleth Cuthbert, filed a lawsuit alleging claims based upon violation of her “right of publicity claims.” Apparently, Fiji has attempted to trademark her likeness as the “Fiji Water Girl” and she further alleges that “Fiji Water Girl” generated more than $12 million worth of brand exposure in the day following the Golden Globes.
The complaint states, “Fiji Water pressured Steinbach into video recording a fake signing of a fake document to simulate Steinbach signing on as a Fiji Water Ambassador for use in the event…but that the fake document Steinbach fake signed in the potential future promotional video was not an agreement.”
Steinbach claims in her suit that she was contracted through a staffing company to work on the red carpet at the Golden Globes, which were held in early January 2019, and that she was set up near the entrance of the red carpet at the Beverly Hilton. As stars passed her, she was broadcast over and over again on national television holding her tray of Fiji water. She quickly became a meme, with internet users photoshopping her into the background of notable film scenes. In an attempt to capitalize on the viral sensation, Fiji immediately created the lifesize cardboard cutouts of her likeness, the suit claims.
A day later, Fiji tried to negotiate an agreement with Steinbach, but no agreement was reached. Despite this, the cutouts began appearing in stores. At that point, Fiji asked Steinbach to come to its Los Angeles offices and offered her gifts in an attempt to sign away her likeness rights for the cutouts. She declined. This is when the fake signing occurred. Soon thereafter, Steinbach informed Fiji that it did not have rights to use her photo or likeness in the cutout campaign. Negotiations continued but again did not result in an agreement, the suit claims. Despite this, Fiji continues to use her likeness.
Commentary: This is a rather brazen “invasion of privacy/infringement of rights of publicity” case, which also invokes Cal. Civil Code §3344.
Steinbach is represented by Kimberly Buffington of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.
Counsel for Fiji was not immediately known Friday.
The case is Steinbach v. The Wonderful Co. et al., case number 19STCV03256, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.
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