June 27, 2007 Daily Journal

Gossip Blogger Perez Hilton Sues Photo Agency

By D. Heimpel

  Los Angeles -- The gossip blogger known as Perez Hilton has fired back at the paparazzi suing him for unauthorized use of their pictures. In a lawsuit filed this week, the blogger, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, accused the photo agency X17 of employing illegal immigrants to stalk Hollywood's glitterati.

  Lavandeira's complaint also charges that X17 "has engaged in a pattern of practice of intimidating photographers through threats of physical harm and violence, including grabbing other photographers, pushing them, trying to break their cameras, slashing their tires, and in at least one instance reportedly threatening them with a baseball bat."

  The dispute between Lavandeira and X17, one of Tinseltown's biggest paparazzi agencies, began when the agency accused the blogger of stealing its photos before they could be sold for lucrative fees to entertainment publications, including People. The photos were rendered nearly worthless after they appeared first on the blog, X17 maintained. The photo agency also launched a rival blog, www.x17online.com.

  Lavandeira claimed he had a fair right to post the photos because he alters them, frequently scrawling crude epithets across the faces of some of Hollywood's biggest names.

  The dispute heated up last week after X17 persuaded the server that hosts Lavandeira's blog, www.perezhilton.com, to drop him over concerns about copyright infringement.

  Aside from accusing X17 of hiring illegal immigrants and menacing other photographers, Lavandeira's complaint, filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, also claims photo agency avoided paying taxes through the mislabeling of employees, and forcing photographers to work excessive hours without proper pay.

  The complain alleges X17 employees stole actress Lindsay Lohan's camera that contained photos later sold to a national magazine.

  "Unfair business practices have led them to obtain photographs that they impose on their blogs in an illegal and unethical manner," Lavandeira's lawyer, Bryan J. Freedman of Freedman and Taitelman in Los Angeles, said in an interview.

  X17 maintains Lavandeira's lawsuit is retaliation for the suit the agency filed on Nov. 30.

  "I think this was a desperate attempt by a desperate man trying to seek revenge against a company that got his Web site shut down," said Brandy Navarre, vice president of X17.

  Early this year, X17's lawsuit was amended to include 87 alleged cases of infringement and sought more than $13 million in damages, up from $7.6 million. Discovery has just begun in this case, according to John Tehranian who is representing X17. Trial is scheduled for March 11, 2008.

  "The thing that struck me was the deep irony here," Tehranian said. "Mr. Lavandeira seeking to vindicate the rights of photographers, when he thinks people should give him their photos for free."

  Last week X17 requested Lavandeira's Internet Service Provider, Crucial Paradigm, to drop the gossip site over its use of copyrighted material. It did, and Lavandeira has since moved to ISP Blogads, the same company that places advertisements through Lavandeira's site.

  Lavandeira's claims could prompt an investigation of the photo agency by state and federal agencies.

  "If X17 has hired undocumented immigrants, they face the full weight of the IRS, the State Franchise Tax Board, The California Labor Commissioner and the INS," said Phil Horowitz, immediate past chairman of the California Employment Lawyers Association. "And that is a heavy weight indeed."

  X17 counsel downplayed the lawsuit.

  This story appeared Wednesday June 27, 2007 on dailyjournal.com