Fiji Water Girl: From Photobombs to Lawsuit

Advertising Law

Taking full advantage of her 15 minutes of fame, the model dubbed the “Fiji Water Girl” has now filed suit against the company.

Kelly Steinbach stole the show on the Golden Globes red carpet, photobombing countless celebrities while holding Fiji water bottles. But when Fiji capitalized on the publicity and launched a marketing campaign using images of Steinbach from the event, she filed suit.

According to Steinbach’s California state court complaint, the day after the awards broadcast and after Steinbach’s efforts to appear in the pictures created a social media firestorm, Fiji created large cardboard cutouts with pictures of her on the red carpet holding the water bottles and placed them around Los Angeles where the water is sold.

The company also added Steinbach’s likeness to its social media accounts and filed for trademark registrations of the term “Fiji Water Girl,” she alleged.

Steinbach’s suit claims that the company lacked her permission to use her likeness and although it attempted to negotiate an agreement, she refused to sign it. Instead, she was pressured into signing a “fake” document for a Fiji promotional video, according to her lawsuit, and the company’s campaign violated her right of publicity in violation of California state law.

Alleging that Fiji’s use of her photograph harmed her “peace, happiness, feelings, goodwill, professional standing and future publicity value,” Steinbach’s complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as profits from the use of her likeness; she estimated that she generated more than $12 million worth of brand exposure for the company.

To read the complaint in Steinbach v. The Wonderful Company LLC, click here.

Why it matters: Steinbach’s lawsuit extended her fame for a few more days, but Fiji claims the action “is frivolous and entirely without merit,” and that the company negotiated “a generous agreement” with the model after the Golden Globes. “We are confident that we will prevail in court,” Fiji said in a statement. “Throughout our history, we have a sterling reputation working with talent.”