Kendall and Kylie Jenner, already smarting from online outrage over their ill-fated "vintage" rock T-shirts featuring their own images, now face a copyright infringement lawsuit stemming from the public relations debacle.
Michael Miller, an acclaimed photographer in Los Angeles who has worked with celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Eazy-E and Jack Nicholson, filed a lawsuit against the two youngest members of the Kardashian-Jenner reality-TV clan in federal court in Los Angeles on Friday.
He accuses the duo of using two of his pictures of Tupac Shakur, without his consent, on the T-shirts they tried to market on their website last month.
On June 28, the two models unveiled the "vintage" rock T-shirts — at $125 each — with their Instagram faces superimposed over some of rap and rock's icons, such as Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Black Sabbath, Metallica, Pink Floyd, the Doors, Kiss and Led Zeppelin.
By June 29, following a deluge of critical comments and widespread mocking, including from the outraged mother of the late Notorious B.I.G., the sisters yanked the shirts from the website and expressed abject contrition on social media.
Girls, you haven’t earned the right to put your face with musical icons. Stick to what you know…lip gloss. pic.twitter.com/BhmuUVrDBn— Sharon Osbourne (@MrsSOsbourne) June 29, 2017
The designs were "not well thought out and we deeply apologize to anyone that has been upset and/or offended, especially to the families of the artists," Kendall tweeted. "We will use this an opportunity to learn from these mistakes and again, we are very sorry."
But Miller was still mighty ticked off, says his lead lawyer on the lawsuit, Scott Alan Burroughs, whose firm, Doniger/Burroughs, specializes in protecting artists and creators from copyright infringement.
"It was very upsetting to Mr. Miller," Burroughs told USA TODAY. "His photography and particularly these photos are extremely personal and extremely important to him. To see them out there being used by someone who never advised you they were going to be used would be upsetting to any artist."
Miller's lawsuit also names Kendall + Kylie Inc, the Jenner sisters' company, in the claim. Miller wants to be compensated with all of the profits, and for his own losses, from the alleged infringement to the greatest extent possible under the Copyright Act.
Burroughs said that because Miller registered his pictures with the U.S. Copyright Office, he could seek statutory damages of up to $150,000 per photo.
Miller, the suit says, had no interest in being associated with the Jenners, in part because of their known habits of "ostentatious displays of wealth on social media," and in part because of Kendall's involvement in "two of the worst public relations disasters in recent memory."
Kendall was widely mocked in April for appearing in a Pepsi ad that ripped off imagery from Black Lives Matter protests and that positioned Kendall as soothing race relations with a can of soda. And last month she was paid to promote the disastrous Fyre Festival music debacle that is now the subject of lawsuits and at least one federal indictment.
Burroughs says neither Jenner sister can argue that they were naïve about what they were doing with Miller's photos.
"They're not running their business out of their garage with no supervision," he said. "They incorporated two entities, the (T-shirts) appear to be professionally done. It would be shocking to me that they could incorporate their companies and market and sell this apparel and not be represented by lawyers or multiple lawyers."
Will the case go to trial or be settled out of court quickly, given the Jenners' apology? Hard to say, Burroughs said. "Most federal lawsuits are resolved out of court but we've tried numerous lawsuits for copyright infringement. It's not the rule, but it's not out of the question."
USA TODAY reached out to representatives of the Jenner sisters and their "momager," Kris Jenner, but messages were not returned.
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