At 5:30 A.M. on January 3, 2004, internationally known celebrity Britney Spears married Jason Alexander, an unknown individual, at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. In November of 2006, Perez Hilton, eager to maintain his claim to be the “Queen of All Media,” published a photo of Jason Alexander on his website, juxtaposed next to a photograph of Britney Spears. Accompanying the photographs was a quote from Alexander, who stated that he and Spears used ecstasy and cocaine. Ken Knight, a professional photographer created the image that Hilton used on March 9, 2000, and registered the photograph with the U.S. Copyright Office on January 9, 2004. In 2006, Knight filed a complaint against Perez Hilton, arguing that Hilton’s use of his photography infringed Knight’s copyright. Knight provides a copy of the registration number to prove validity of his copyright. In the complaint, Knight argued “there was instant and significant demand within the publicity, news and entertainment industries for photographic images of ‘Mr. Britney’” and photos “incorporating those whose lives intersect hers…are licensed and sold for significant fees.” Further, Knight noted that “the subject image was directly hosted by Hilton on his website and was not displayed via a link or frame from any other website.” Knight asked for damages in the amount of $150,000 and an order enjoining Hilton from infringing on his copyright. Hilton moved to dismiss the case for improper service and lack of jurisdiction. Approximately one month after Hilton’s motion to dismiss, Knight dropped the case.
This case is important to my research paper and it involves Hilton’s use of a photograph that became newsworthy, thereby making the fair use analysis more complicated. As opposed to paparazzi that follow current celebrities, this photographer took the photograph four years before the individual entered the limelight. Knight’s lawsuit involved Hilton’s use of the photograph two years after it had infiltrated the entertainment world, thereby reducing its potential licensing value. A quick analysis of the factors of fair use weighs in favor of infringement, largely due to the fact that Hilton did not doodle on the photograph. Hilton’s use of the photograph does not add any new meaning or expression and there is no justification or transformation in its use. The purpose of Hilton’s post was to reveal that Spears and Alexander used drugs. It is evident that Hilton would have relayed the same information had the picture not been there, as the foundation for the post rests on Alexander’s quote. Had Hilton drew references to drug use, a transformation related to his story could possibly be found. Additionally, Hilton’s used the photograph in its entirety, and did not reduce the size by any measure, thereby taking the “heart of the work”. The nature of the work weighs minimally in favor of Hilton, as many had already seen the photo, but the effect on the potential market weighs in favor of Knight, as Hilton’s use presented a direct-market substitute. Had Knight not chosen to drop the lawsuit, I believe the court’s decision would have been in Knight’s favor.