It’s possibly the most infamous car chase since OJ Simpson gently steered a Ford Bronco down the Los Angeles freeway nearly 30 years ago. Earlier this month, after a dinner in New York City honoring Meghan Markle for her lobbying work, the Duchess of Sussex and her red-haired Prince Harry said they were caught up in a “near-disastrous chase” by paparazzi who barely knew it could expect to make money. However, almost immediately the account was questioned. Even New York Mayor Eric Adams, who told reporters the incident was “reckless and irresponsible.” expressed some doubts: “I can’t believe there was a two-hour high-speed chase, but we’ll find out the exact duration.”
whoops Two days later, the couple, perhaps strained by the setback, called the California-based celebrity photo agency to their attorneys Backgrid to flip his images from the alleged persecution. It was a pretentious question, delivered with a kind of pomp more familiar to Buckingham footmen than to Hollywood folk. (“We hereby demand…” it reportedly began.) Even in Hollywood, Ground Zero for Do you know who I am? Turning heads, it ranked high with the Beyoncé publicist asking Buzzfeed remove unfavorable photos from the website of the star’s performance in the 2013 Super Bowl. Pffft. As if.
Backgrid’s lawyers took up the ridiculous request. Only this was no ordinary “Dear Sir, please note” kiss-off. Backgrid responded with a particularly sneerful reply, dripping with icy contentment. Give us a call Hamilton Soundtrack, because in this case Backgrid does its best:
“As I am sure you know, property in America belongs to the owner: third parties cannot simply demand that it be turned over to them, as perhaps kings can do…Perhaps you should sit down with your client and advise him that his English rules der royal prerogatives, which required the citizenry to surrender their property to the crown, were long ago rejected by this country. We stand by our founding fathers.”
In Hollywood, lawyers usually leave the theatrics to their clients, but the response was so bombastic—so Al Pacino with a flamethrower Levels of histrionics—Of course it became its own businessj. meeting politely called it a “blatant rejection” while the British press practically sucked the sauce out of her fingers. US photo agency refuses to release pictures of Harry and Meghan because America lost King George III 250 years ago. defeated in a war” explained The Sun.
The backgrid attorney who actually authored the disease remained anonymous. Until now.
“It was an irritating request,” said Joanna “Jo” Ardalan, 40, a partner at One LLP, a Beverly Hills-based boutique intellectual property and copyright firm that has represented Backgrid for over five years. So exasperated, says Ardalan, who is also an associate professor at Loyola Law School, that she spent a full two hours crafting an answer that she hoped would “put them in their place.” Mission accomplished.
“Do you really think you can do to the company just trying to get the job done?” she snapped at him.
To be clear, Backgrid has not heard from Team Sussex since the reply. And the photos from that night? Ardalan says, “They don’t show anything remotely like a near miss or a two-hour chase through the crowded streets of Manhattan.”
But whether they realized it or not, the Sussexes did more than flex their perceived muscles against the press, their eternal enemy, when they sent out the letter. They also unwittingly became a billboard for a much, much larger issue that was of serious concern in the creative circles in Hollywood and beyond: the rights of photographers and other creatives to ownership of their work.
Two days after Backgrid threw the proverbial bird at Team Sussex’s lawyers, the Supreme Court ruled that factual Andy Warhol had appropriated a photo by Prince from famed photographer Lynn Goldsmith to create one of his iconic screenprints. She sued when Warhol’s estate later licensed an image of it to Condé Nast for use in one of his magazines. The judges agreed with Goldsmith in ruling that Warhol’s artistic interpretation of the photo did not go beyond Goldsmith’s copyright in it, a decision that sent tangible shivers down the spines of creative communities around the world. “It goes to the heart of how artists are educated today to make and understand art,” wrote the Brooklyn Museum in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court.
But for Ardalan, who also represents Backgrid in a suit against Twitter for failing to monitor copyrighted sitesPosting hotos on his platform was a kind of endorsement, a win for the much-maligned celebrity photographers. “We want to offer incentives to creative people and photographers. When people like Andy Warhol are free to create derivative works for competing purposes, it undermines photographers’ incentive to create anything at all,” she explained.
For Harry and Meghan, the case underscores the utter absurdity of not just their demand, but their attempts to rewrite the established quid pro quo between paparazzi and stars: We’ll give you the attention you want, and you’ll let us pay our rent with it this job. It also raised awkward questions about the hypocrisy of her position, if the likes of Megyn Kelly and Piers Morgan say Markle is to be believed Warnings SPhotographers if she wants to be photographed. A case of biting the hand that feeds you?
“I know nothing of that,” said Ardalan.
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