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Rihanna's photo on TMZ

The controversy surrounding the gossip site’s picture of the injured singer and how they obtained it

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The Chris Brown/Rihanna story took another troubling turn on Feb. 19 when TMZ.com posted a photo that they claim shows Rihanna’s facial injuries after Brown allegedly beat her during Grammy weekend. Rihanna’s reps said that she wouldn’t comment on the case ”at the request of authorities.” At press time, Brown’s camp had not commented on the image, which also appeared on the front page of newspapers like the New York Post. (EW did not run it in print or online.) The LAPD’s investigation remains open; it launched an internal probe to determine whether the photo was police evidence that an employee gave to TMZ — a fireable offense. One online news report claimed the site paid $62,500 for the shot.

TMZ declined to comment for this story, but managing editor Harvey Levin has insisted the site obtained the image legally. First Amendment lawyer Douglas E. Mirell says TMZ (which, like EW, is owned by Time Warner) is unlikely to face legal repercussions: ”Assuming TMZ isn’t lying about whether they obtained [it] lawfully, they’re probably on safe ground.” In any event, traffic spiked 190 percent in one day, and the site notched its highest single-day visitor tally in two years. (The previous record was set in 2006 during the Michael Richards racist-tirade scandal.) ”It had a very quick impact,” says Hitwise research director Heather Dougherty. ”This was definitely one of the biggest stories they’ve broken.”