Perez Hilton, the popular blogger who puts celebrities in the limelight, is getting a taste of his own medicine.
Hilton, less commonly known by his given name, Mario Lavandeira, is the target of several lawsuits alleging that his Web site, Perezhilton.com, routinely posts photos he does not have legal permission to use.
According to Variety, the site was taken offline two days ago by its host, Crucial Paradigm, after the host reportedly received warnings from angry photo agencies irked by the unapproved use of their images.
"He has been fully aware that he has been infringing on our photos," said Brandy Navarre, co-owner of X17, one of the celebrity photo agencies suing Lavandeira, or Hilton, as he's known by his many followers in the blogosphere. "This is just how he decides to do his work."
In addition to X17, five other photo agencies have come together to file a lawsuit against Hilton for illegally using their images.
'Hollywood's Most Hated Web Site'
The Perez Hilton blog, self-proclaimed as "Hollywood's most hated Web site," combines photographs, videos and articles about celebrities ranging from Nicole Richie to Christina Aguilera. Hilton regularly marks the images digitally, writing phrases such as "I'm still mad" on a photo of Isaiah Washington, who was recently fired from the hit show "Grey's Anatomy," and "on the mend" on a photo of under-the-weather late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.
The four lawsuits, which include at least six photo agencies, allege that many times these images are used on sites without consent and posted illegally without compensating the companies who own the rights to the photos.
Perez Hilton was unavailable for personal comment but sent the following statement to ABC News through Matt Lum, the director of technology for Perezhilton.com.
"Perezhilton.com stands by its commitment to protect the freedom of people to transform content on the Internet for the purpose of commentary and satire and unquestionably believes that it comports with the fair use exception," Lum said. "Threats, intimidation and lawsuits to try to restrict First Amendment rights should not be tolerated as a substitute for judicial determination of fair use."
Sara Edelman, a partner at the New York-based law firm of David & Gilbert, which specializes in copyright law, said the fair use doctrine that Lum referred to allows people to take other people's work only to expand on it, to use it as a springboard for commentary or to make a statement about the underlying work.
She said that just marking a photograph digitally, as Hilton did on his site, did not come under fair use.
"Even if you just change the photograph a bit it wouldn't immunize you from copyright infringement," Edelman said.
Fair Use Doctrine
Edelman said there are four factors that courts consider when evaluating whether the fair use doctrine applies but added that such an analysis is very subjective.
Courts look at the way in which the image is used -- for commentary, analysis or otherwise -- and also consider the nature of the copyrighted work to evaluate whether it is a factual or creative expression and whether it has been published. The court will also consider the amount of copyrighted work that is being used, as well as any potential economic effect on the owner.
"This is about any creative commercial enterprise out there that is trying to make a living on the Internet," said Peter Kaufman, co-council on a pending lawsuit against Hilton that includes five agencies. "What [Hilton] is in effect doing is taking the audience that would otherwise go to my clients -- the people who buy these photographs from my clients -- and taking the money when they sell the ad space."
Navarre said Hilton was using X17's images illegally as recently as yesterday, when the company sent an e-mail ordering him to take down an image he posted of Nicole Richie. She told ABC News that Hilton removed the image but allegedly replaced it with yet another image taken by X17.
"He took it out, switched it out for another photo, which was still ours, and they switch it out to someone else who is probably one of our competitors or paparazzi," Navarre said.
Celebrity Images Key
Images of celebrities are the focal points of many blogs and are often the lure that brings readers to a particular site, according to Lisa Timmons, the editor of gossip blog Socialitelife.com.
"The numbers tell you page views are coming from photo posts," Timmons said. "Those are the things that are getting the readers to your site and the most money with advertisers."
What differs site to site, however, is how these images are obtained. While it may be easy to lift images from different sites without permission, Timmons believes most bloggers do it the right way. And if they don't, Timmons suspects they will be when they get word of Hilton's legal troubles.
"I think it's pretty shortsighted to say that you don't want to give photographers any credit for their work," Timmons said. "You might as well just pay the people who are out there breaking their necks to get those photos."