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Leeches Get Mooched, Blogger Sued By Paparazzi

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What at its core is a true Hollywood catfight is becoming a test case for the limits of free speech and fair use. As the paparazzi files a copyright infringement lawsuit against the queen of celebrity gossip bloggers, Perez Hilton, a.k.a. Mario Lavandeira, the legal system will get a tawdry exploration of what can and can’t be done with images.

It may have been Hilton’s photo-pinching of Britney Spears’ most indecorous moment (or a number of other indecorous celebrity moments) that pushed X17 Inc., a paparazzi agency, to ask how Hilton dares mooch off their leaching. X17 has filed a $7.5 million lawsuit against him. This puts one of the scummier wings of free society in the position of testing one of that society’s highest-mounted institutions.

The publicity itself has been good for Perez, no doubt, who already charges $9,000-$16,000 per weekly banner ad, promoting various things to his 2.5 million unique visitors. If you haven’t heard of the self-proclaimed “Queen of All Media” (who is currently also in a spat with Lance Bass’s boyfriend), you will.

Perez is shopping around a reality show, is slated to appear on MTV’s New Year’s Eve special, has been profiled by the AP, the LA Times, and GQ. But X17 says he’s built that success by piggybacking on the paparazzo’s talent for piggybacking on fame. And that’s not cool, man. When Perez showed up on the red carpet at VH1′s Big In ’06 awards, the popcorn flash of paparazzi cameras was noticeably absent in protest.

Perez defends his use of the photos taken from X17′s website as free speech and fair use, as none of them were posted on his blog unaltered. Many of the photos appear with crude messages written in the margins, or highly suggestive markings. Those small scribbles and doodles, Perez asserts, make for satire and commentary, both of which are protected speech.

Since the lawsuit, though, some images, like this one of Heidi Klum and Seal’s son, have been taken down and replaced with “Image gladly removed at the request of the copyright holder.”

So now, after all the silliness, cat scratching, muckraking, name calling, and petty snits, the First Amendment will be tested to decide whether or not a blogger can take a copyrighted photo, make fun of the subject with the most rudimentary of alterations, and post it to his highly trafficked and monetized website, putting the silliness, cat scratching, muckraking, name calling, and petty snits back into the government sphere where they belong, and where everybody has a gay ol’ time.

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Leeches Get Mooched, Blogger Sued By Paparazzi
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