This past spring, celebrity news and lifestyle website PopSugar came under fire for allegedly stealing images from social media influencers. PopSugar was accused of not only imitating several influencers’ Instagram profiles, but also replacing their commissioned affiliate links–the main source of income for many style bloggers–with the news site’s own promotional URLs. The “falsified vanity pages” were posted in PopSugar’s “Shop” vertical under a category called “Looks.”
This week, Los Angeles-based influencer and former law student Nita Batra filed a class action lawsuit in California federal court this week against PopSugar, as reported by The Fashion Law. Batra, who goes by Nita Mann on Instagram, alleges that the news site “decided to capitalize on the influencers’ social media following by copying and posting thousands of influencers’ Instagram images [...] on its own website without authorization.” The suit also claims that PopSugar removed affiliate product links associated with the original images, replacing them with their own. In accordance with the class action lawsuit minimum, the sought-after monetary damages exceed $5 million.
When the alleged infringement was first reported on in April, PopSugar co-founder and CEO Brian Sugar tweeted an explanation, claiming that the site’s “Looks” section was developed at a hackathon as “a tool to analyze fashion and beauty bloggers and products they featured.” According to Sugar, it was intended for internal use only but posted to popsugar.com in summer 2017, in order to be easily accessible to the site’s editors and producers. (The pages, he said, were hidden from search indexing and social media.) Sugar disclosed that the commissioned links had earned a total of $2,695 for the site, which he said would be paid in full to “the appropriate influencers who have earned it.”
Batra, however, contends that the pages were in fact picked up by search engines and publicly available under the website’s directory. She argues that “PopSugar’s unlawful conduct” harmed her and other influencers “in a variety of ways,” including copyright infringement and interfering with their sales commissions. Read more about this case at The Fashion Law.