Fiji Water Girl Sues Fiji Water Over Using Her Image Without Permission

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
February 1, 2019 Updated: February 2, 2019

The model who went viral after photobombing the Golden Globes red carpet while holding a tray of Fiji Water bottles is suing the brand for using life-size cardboard likenesses of her without permission.

Kelleth Cuthbert, whose real name is Kelly Steinbach, has sued Fiji Water Company and The Wonderful Company, claiming they illegally tapped her viral fame to boost their brand by using her image in a promotional campaign without her approval, the Blast reported.

Cuthbert claims in court documents obtained by the website that on Jan. 7, a day after the 76th Golden Globes awards show, Fiji Water “intentionally created cardboard cutouts of Steinbach for use in a cardboard cutout marketing campaign”—without having first signed a contract with her for the right to use the model’s image.

Fiji water models pose at Golden Globe awards
Kelleth Cuthbert (far right), whose real name is Kelly Steinbach, has sued Fiji water, alleging the company used her likeness without permission. In this image models pose at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards Celebration in Los Angeles, Cali., on Jan. 6, 2019. Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images for FIJI Water)

Cardboard cutouts of Cuthbert were spotted in various locations, according to the report, including one that was photographed by paparazzi in West Hollywood featuring a surprised-looking John Legend wheeling a cartload of groceries outside a Bristol Farms store, with a likeness of Cuthbert in the background.

The model further alleges that on the following day—Jan. 8—the company tried to rush a deal through with her agent and ply Cuthbert with “gifts to entice” the model to pen a contract signing over her rights. The lawsuit also claims that Fiji “pressured Steinbach into video recording a fake signing of a fake document to simulate Steinbach signing on as a Fiji Water Ambassador.” Fox News reported that her legal team said the document was not an agreement and that the model later destroyed it.

Cuthbert was reported by Blast as saying that Fiji knowingly leveraged her image without a contract to underpin its legal use, and as such wants the company to stop using her likeness and cough up cash for the monetary damages.

models hold Fiji water
Models hold samples of Fiji brand water at the Hollywood Reporter’s 27th Annual Women In Entertainment Breakfast in Los Angeles, Cali. on Dec. 5, 2018. (Jerod Harris/Getty Images for FIJI Water)

A Fiji Water representative told the Guardian newspaper, “This lawsuit is frivolous and entirely without merit. After the Golden Globes social media moment, we negotiated a generous agreement with Ms. Cuthbert that she blatantly violated. We are confident that we will prevail in Court. Throughout our history, we have had a sterling reputation working with talent.”

Model Steals the Show—Fiji Nabs $12 Million in Exposure

The Fiji Water Girl stunt has proved lucrative for the brand, with marketing analytics firm Apex Marketing Group estimating the viral story was worth about $12 million in brand exposure.

“Since this went viral it took the (brand) exposure to a new level not seen in prior Golden Globes,” Apex Marketing Group president Eric Smallwood told Yahoo Finance.

But not everyone was impressed with the ploy.

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis voiced her frustration on Twitter for being photographed with Fiji water products in the background as she posed on  the red carpet. “I knew there was a photographer poised & I moved as I didn’t want to be doing advertising for either,” she wrote on Twitter. “The sponsors of events need to get permission from people before they try 2 take their picture with them.”

Cuthbert claimed she wasn’t trying to steal the attention from all the famous stars.

“I was absolutely shocked,” she told Inside Edition. “I mean, it’s the Golden Globes. You would think the coverage would not be about me.”

She told PEOPLE that her modeling instincts kicked in, and she often just happened to be “looking at the camera at the right time.”

“There’s tons of photographers everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you stand, you’re in the crossfire of every shot,” she told the magazine. “You’ve gotta have good face, at least, if you’re gonna be hovering in the background frequently.”

However, she seemed to tell the Los Angeles Times that she knew exactly what she was doing when she photobombed such big celebrities.

“It’s all strategic,” Cuthbert told the publication. “You’ve got to angle.”

 

Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'