Celebrity Photograph Agency BackGrid Sues Twitter Over User Copyright Infringement

BackGrid USA Inc. has filed suit against Twitter alongside ten anonymous defendants for allegedly failing to take down more than 1,500 photographs of celebrities owned by BackGrid and illegally posted to Twitter by users. The result, the lawsuit claims, is Twitter’s direct, contributory, and vicarious infringement to which the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbor does not apply.

The December 30 complaint explains that Backgrid is “the world’s premier celebrity-related photograph agency and provides highly sought-after images of celebrities around the world to top news and lifestyle outlets.” It generates income by licensing copyright-registered photos to hundreds of magazines, newspapers, television stations, and other media outlets, the filing says.

Twitter makes money from advertising on its platform as well as the sale of user data. Because the former part of its business model is based on driving traffic and clicks, BackGrid claims Twitter has a motive to facilitate and encourage copyright infringement of celebrity photographs as it generates revenue.

But Twitter’s gain is BackGrid’s loss, the filing says. Though BackGrid has filed more than 6,700 DMCA notices with Twitter reporting reposted photographs without licenses, the social media platform has allegedly not responded.

Further, the suit accuses Twitter’s take-down policy, touted as DMCA-compliant, of not being so. “[S]uch lip service compliance with the DMCA is merely a fig leaf to hide its systematic abuse of the rights of photograph copyright holders and their enormous profits derived from such infringement,” BackGrid ventures.

In turn, the complaint states a claim for declaratory relief that because Twitter fails to employ industry-standard take down practices and “expeditiously” remove infringing content, it is not entitled to safe harbor under the DMCA.

The plaintiff seeks injunctive relief halting Twitter’s allegedly infringing practices, damages, and its attorneys’ fees and costs. BackGrid is represented by One LLP.