In the documents, the water company alleges that model Kelleth Cuthbert (real name Kelly Steinbach) has “bitten the hand that feeds her” and has betrayed “the very company that is entirely responsible for providing her the opportunity and the means to capitalize on her fleeting 15 minutes of internet fame.”
Steinbach became famous for photobombing celebrities while serving bottles of Fiji on the red carpet during this year’s Golden Globes. Following her newfound, viral stardom, the model sued the brand for using her fame as a marketing tool without her consent in a post-Globes marketing campaign.
Steinbach sued Fiji Water and The Wonderful Company for “intentionally created cardboard cutouts of Steinbach for use in a cardboard cutout marketing campaign” and that she’d been “pressured into video recording a fake signing of a fake document to simulate Steinbach signing on as a Fiji Water Ambassador," according to legal documents.
Fiji fought back by filing its own case on Friday in Los Angeles, asserting Steinbach’s allegations are false and that she “materially breached” a contract that allows the company to use her likeness in Fiji ads.
In its counterclaim, Fiji alleges that Steinbach and her team signed off on a one-year deal for $90,000 as a brand ambassador, and that Fiji could use her “name, likeness, and performance” during the contract’s terms. The company asserts she accepted the role as brand ambassador in a local TV interview and was videotaped signing the papers at Fiji’s offices last month, where she was purportedly shown cardboard cutouts of herself.
Court papers say that Steinbach then “took the only signed copy of the Consulting Agreement with her” and later destroyed them. The model’s legal team contends that they didn’t consider the document to be an agreement. But Fiji has argued that the documents are legitimate and valid.
Included in Fiji’s court documents are images of Steinbach photobombing celebrities and images the model posted on Instagram of herself standing next to her cutout.
Images of John Legend shopping at a Bristol Farms in L.A. with Steinbach’s cutout have gone viral. However, the model’s lawyers subsequently had Fiji remove her likeness from stores. Steinbach’s team has argued she brought in $12 million worth of exposure for Fiji as she's demanded compensation for damages.
Steinbach's lawyers have released a statement regarding Fiji's countersuit.
Kelleth’s lawyer, Kecia Reynolds, at Pillsbury commented that the complaint filed by Fiji Water today is an obvious publicity stunt to counter revelations of Fiji Water’s unlawful actions. However, Kelleth will not be bullied by Fiji Water, the Wonderful Company, or its billionaire owners. To be clear, Fiji Water has not “feed” Kelleth. Fiji Water has never paid Kelleth and there was not an agreement, not an email agreement or fake document agreement. Fiji Water created cardboard cutouts of Kelleth to advertise and market their product. Fiji Water profited from using Kelleth’s image without consent and she is legally entitled to damages and profits from the use of her image. Fiji Water’s complaint is meritless and Kelleth is confident she will prevail in court.
Suing Fiji Water was a last resort for Ms. Cuthbert who had hoped to discretely resolve this dispute. Fiji Water used her image without a contract, without consent and without paying her, all for Fiji Water’s financial gain. Models make a living off the use of their image. No one would expect other professions to work for free. Fiji Water’s cardboard cutout campaign used Ms. Cuthbert’s image unlawfully and she just wants what is fair.
Fiji claims that in the agreement, Steinbach complied to not promoting competing brands, and that she’s already violated her deal. Fiji wants her case thrown out, as well as monetary damages and legal fees.