Fiji Water vs. Fiji Water Girl: In Another Twist, The Company Files a Countersuit

Susan Geston, Jeff Bridges, Fiji Water

Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for FIJI Water

UPDATE: Fiji Water and parent company the Wonderful Company have filed a countersuit against “Fiji Water Girl” Kelleth Cuthbert for breach of contract and false promise and are seeking compensatory damages from the model and a dismissal of her complaint.

“This action arises from simple greed on the part of cross-defendant Kelly Steinbach (professionally known as Kelleth Cuthbert) and her agents,” states the countersuit, obtained by E! News. “Ms. Steinbach reneged on the valid agreement between herself and Fiji to serve as a Fiji Water Brand Ambassafor and permit Fiji to use her likeness in its related advertising campaign, and instead, attempted to extort close to half a million dollars from Fiji because she wanted a better deal than the original $90,000 she had originally accepted in exchange for such rights.”

Cuthberg’s lawyer said in a statement to E! News that Fiji Water’s countersuit was “an obvious publicity stunt to counter revelations of Fiji Water’s unlawful actions,” adding that the model “will not be bullied by Fiji Water, the Wonderful Company, or its billionaire owners.”

“Fiji Water has never paid Kelleth and there was not an agreement, not an email agreement or fake document agreement,” the statement said. “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.”

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“Suing Fiji Water was a last resort for Ms. Cuthbert who had hoped to discretely resolve this dispute,” the lawyer continued, echoing past remarks. “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.”

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Isn’t it ironic that Fiji Water Girl is now suing Fiji Water for profiting from her appearance at the 2019 Golden Globes.

Court documents obtained by E! News reveal that the star, whose stage name is Kelleth Cuthbert, is suing the brand for ” the unauthorized use of [Fiji Water Girl’s] photograph, likeness and identity.” In plain terms, the model is suing the company for using her image as the focal point of a global marketing campaign, which was inspired by Kelleth’s viral moment on the red carpet of the award show.

According to the documents, the model claims that she never gave Fiji Water authorization to use her photos to create cardboard cutouts of herself. She also claims that she did not “sign away her rights to ‘Fiji Water Girl'” as the beverage brand allegedly tried to get her to do. 

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Moreover, the model claims that Fiji Water pressured her into signing a “fake document” authorizing the use of her image.

In short, the 31-year-old claims she never agreed to be the face of a worldwide marketing campaign, despite photobombing stars at the 2019 Golden Globes.

Fiji Water has since spoken out about the lawsuit. In a statement to E! News, the company said, “This lawsuit is frivolous and entirely without merit. After the Golden Globes social media moment, we negotiated a generous agreement with Ms. Cuthbert that she blatantly violated. We are confident that we will prevail in Court. Throughout our history, we have had a sterling reputation working with talent.”

Cuthbert’s legal team later told E! News in a statement that suing Fiji Water “was a last resort” for his client, “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,” the lawyer said at the time. “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.”

This isn’t Kelleth’s, whose real name is actually Kelly Steinbach, first brush with controversy. Jamie Lee Curtis was an outspoken opponent to Fiji Water Girl’s photobombing and posted a lengthy statement slamming the viral moment

The actress said she “specifically moved away from the blatant” advertising that Cuthbert was a part of. “I knew why there was a photographer poised there and I moved away as I said out loud that I didn’t want to be doing advertising for either,” the Halloween star claimed. “Clearly this angle shows that I moved from her being behind me and yet from the side it still happens.”

This story was originally published on Thurs., Jan 31, 2019, at 3:57 PM PST.

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