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Paparazzi agency goes broke

Paparazzi picture agency, Splash News, has filed for bankruptcy due to the Covid-19 pandemic keeping celebs indoors, and numerous costly legal battles.

Splash News president, Emma Curzon, stated the financial issues leading to a default on a loan worth nearly US$1 million stem from three sources.

‘As a consequence of the global pandemic the availability of celebrity images has declined and budgets within media companies have been cut to reflect wider macro-economic challenges,’ Curzon said. ‘This situation has been exacerbated by two ongoing litigation cases and the costs of defending these cases.’

One of those cases is a UK privacy lawsuit with The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, over photos captured during ‘a private family outing in a remote rural setting and that there was no public interest in the photographs’. The family were holidaying in British Columbia, Canada, in January 2020, and Markle’s lawyer claims a Splash paparazzo arrived earlier to make ‘a full reconnaissance inspection’ of their private home.

The photographer was ‘walking around it looking to identify entry and exit points and putting his camera over the fence to take photographs’, according to the lawyer. A Splash administrator accepted these claims, and the photo agency previously settled the matter by agreeing to not take any photos of the couple, or their son, should it come out of administration.

‘The case involves free speech related issues under United Kingdom law and, unfortunately, has proven to be too unbearably expensive for Splash to continue its defense,’ said Curzon. ‘Furthermore, if the plaintiffs were to prevail in that case it would likely result in a large attorney fee award against Splash. Notwithstanding the merits of the case the company has sought to settle this matter but has been unable to agree [on] a financial settlement within its resources.’

Paps have an interesting relationship with celebrities. For the likes of Markle and Prince Harry, and his late mother Princess Diana, along with many other celebrities, the paparazzi negatively impact the life of their subjects by constantly pursuing them. Other celebrities have a more healthy relationship by tipping off the paps for photo ops, in an effort to make headlines and stay in the media limelight.

The other lawsuit was when a former Splash US account manager, Esmeralda Servin, sued the pap agency for workplace sexual harassment and discrimination. Servin claims to have been fired after complaining about ongoing harassment, as well as flagging illegal bids by an employee, and highlighting how hiding the contributor pay structure was unethical and violated regulations.

Splash isn’t the only photo agency lacking transparency in regards to contributor payment structures. Many microstock photo agencies are moving toward adopting a subscription-based business model, allowing customers pay an ongoing fee for a prescribed number of images files. While these agencies provide contributing photographers with payment rate information, it’s often unclear how rates are determined due to the subscription model. Many Shutterstock contributors, for instance, have issues understanding pay rates after the microstock agency introduced a mystifying new payment schedule combined with a subscription model.

Splash also pursued many celebrities in court for copyright infringement, including Nicki Minaj, Liam Hemsworth, Jessica Simpson, and Jennifer Lopez. NFL player, Odell Beckham Jr, described the paparazzi agency’s demand for US$40,000 for sharing its photo on Instagram as ‘extortion’.

Last year Splash generated just US$21,000 from copyright infringement, a much lower figure than the previous year when US$118,000 was raised. The US$21K didn’t apparently come close to covering legal costs, according to the bankruptcy papers.

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