Perez Hilton the celeb blogger whose site attracts about 2 million page views daily is known for skewering stars like Britney Spears and Beyoncé by scribbling naughty doodles on paparazzi photos and writing snarky commentary. Now it's not just the A-listers who are angry. On April 23, five photo agencies banded together and slapped the 29-year-old Hilton (né Mario Lavandeira) with a $7 million copyright-infringement lawsuit for allegedly posting at least 400 pictures without permission. This is the third time in seven months that Hilton has found himself with legal troubles: Photo agency X17 sued him last November and is now demanding $13 million; then in February Universal Pictures sued him for an undisclosed sum, citing an unauthorized topless image that he posted of Jennifer Aniston from The Break-Up. (All of the suits are ongoing.)
Many bloggers work in tandem with photo agencies by buying shots at a discounted rate in exchange for including a link to the company's site. But Bryan Freedman, Hilton's attorney, insists that since PerezHilton.com contains satirical content, the real issue is the First Amendment. ''This is about a bigger ideology and that's why he hasn't given in to these lawsuits.... If you stop people from using pictures for the purpose of satire and commentary, you're chilling free speech.''
For now, Hilton continues to publish his blog from his makeshift office a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in L.A. though Freedman confirms another law firm has been added to the blogger's team. Meanwhile, other celeb webmasters are anxiously watching how the legal battle plays out. Trent Vanegas, who runs the pop culture site Pink Is the New Blog, says the Hilton case ''will be the precedent [for] what bloggers are allowed to do.'' Vanegas says he follows the proper protocol for posting photos because he does not want to ''make enemies,'' and adds, ''When you hear about the money that's involved you know, $7 million that would scare me to death.''