Instagram influencer Nita Mann (“Mann”) filed a proposed class action suit in the Northen District of California on June 25, 2018, against lifestyle and media company PopSugar, Inc. (“PopSugar”). Mann, who graduated with a law degree from the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University and boasts over 200,000 Instagram followers, accused PopSugar of copying and reposting thousands of her pictures without her consent and profiting off them through an online shopping platform.
Mann, who filed the suit under her maiden name of Batra, has a contract with online shopping profile, LIKEtoKNOW.it (“LtK”), to earn commission when her followers buy LtK items using links on her Instagram posts. She alleges that when PopSugar copied and posted her images, it first replaced her LtK links with links to ShopStyle, an online shopping platform competitor PopSugar previously owned. Mann claims this conduct violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and impeded her contract with LtK.
According to the suit, the practice “had the effect of interfering with the revenue stream from [LtK] to [Batra] and class members…By misappropriating the infringed images, PopSugar also impeded the growth of [Batra’s] and Class members’ social media presence on authorized platforms.”
Mann alleges PopSugar began posting her infringed Instagram images in or around the summer of 2017. She suspects the company was hoping to bring traffic to its own site and ShopStyle and gather market research. The practice continued through April 2018, and though the images have since been taken down, Mann claims PopSugar “may choose to re-post them in the future.”
ShopStyle has already criticized PopSugar’s actions, calling them “unacceptable” and pledging to end its exclusive contracts with the company. PopSugar’s CEO and co-founder, Brian Sugar (“Sugar”), also publicly commented on the issue in a tweet on April 17, 2018. Sugar explained the pages were meant to be for internal use only and “should have been password protected so only PopSugar employees could use the feature.” The mistake in leaving pages open was “not to make money or anything nefarious, but from a lack of monitoring and misallocation of resources.”
Sugar reported that PopSugar made $2,695 in commission from the infringed posts and promised to “pay in full the appropriate influencers who have earned it.” In spite of Sugar’s statement, Mann claims she hasn’t received any reimbursement.
The suit estimates that hundreds of other Instagram influencers were affected by PopSugar’s unauthorized use of their photographs and names and asks for relief of up to $150,000 per infringed image.
Commenting on Instagram influencers, counsel for Mann asserted that “[c]ompanies need to respect their legal rights as creators of valuable content who have the right to control the commercial use of their personas. Nita Mann is proud to seek justice for herself and her fellow artists.”
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Vogt, RJ. “Instagram Influencer Says PopSugar Stole Posts For Profit.” Law 360. Last modified on June 25, 2018.