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Perez Hilton (a.k.a. Mario Lavandeira), celebrity gossip and popular blogger, is no stranger to lawsuits. Already in 2008, he has successfully defended a libel suit, settled a misappropriation case brought by a paparazzi agency, and most recently, sued a fellow blogger for slander. However, it is his strategy outside the courtroom concerning an infringement suit filed last fall that has brought to light the precarious relationship between the self-titled “Queen of All Media” and his subjects.
During a period of three months in the fall of 2007, Hilton posted streaming music that turned out to be leaked tracks from an unreleased Britney Spears album. Hilton stated later that not only had the leaked songs appeared on many other websites, but that it was widely speculated that the tracks were fakes. Moreover, he says that he always complies with RIAA takedown requests, and was never contacted by Sony concerning the music posts.
The complaint, filed on October 4, 2007 by Zomba Recording, a Sony/BMG label, alleged unlawful copying and public dissemination and stated claims for copyright infringement for each individual song. The suit is ongoing, but Hilton recently decided to strike back at Sony in his own way. A recent post concerning successful new artist Leona Lewis explained why he will not be blogging any more about her, or any other artist on Sony/BMG-owned labels, any time soon:
It really, truly pains us not to talk about them. But, it is something we HAVE to do. Why???? Because Zomba, which is owned by Sony BMG, is suing us and we had a lightbulb go off recently: we can’t support any artist signed to Sony BMG… Sony BMG may win this battle, but at the end of the day we will be the ones laughing. We KNOW that our support can help their artists, some of our favorites, immensely. We hope alienating us was worth it for Sony BMG!
According to Newsweek, Hilton’s webpage has 105 million page views each month. Though he is perhaps best known for doodling on photographs of celebrities, he also uses the website to talk about his favorite musicians. Given the recent rise in popularity of online marketing using sites such as MySpace, it isn’t surprising that record labels have taken notice of Hilton’s site. In fact, Hilton is currently in negotiations with Warner Brothers Records for his own imprint. This deal would be something of a coup for bloggers like Hilton—recognition of the influence that they can wield, especially in the world of music.
So this begs the question: who is better off now, Sony or Warner Brothers? Sony obviously has every right to vigorously protect their copyrights, but at what cost? The company would be hard-pressed to argue that the streaming music had much of a negative impact on potential sales, as it was not downloadable; meanwhile, how many of the 2.8 million monthly visitors to perezhilton.com might have purchased a Leona Lewis album on his recommendation? In a larger context, as blogger’s rights continue to be a hotly-contested issue and defamation as well as infringement suits are flying left and right, the companies involved may want to stop and consider the risk of chilling effects. After all, if you were a popular blogger and trying to decide whether to write about Product A or Product B–one of which happens to be owned by a company with a habit of filing lawsuits against people just like you–which one would you be likely to choose?
- Casey Fiesler
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