'Fiji Water Girl' is suing the company for using her likeness without permission
Model Kelleth Cuthbert — whose real name is Kelly Steinbach but most people know her as the “Fiji Water Girl” of Golden Globes night — didn’t seem as jazzed as the rest of us to be the latest meme. Now, she’s not too jazzed with the company that helped launch her internet stardom.
Steinbach has filed a lawsuit against Fiji Water claiming that the company used her likeness in a promotional campaign without her permission, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In the aftermath of becoming an overnight viral sensation, Fiji launched a new promotional campaign that utilized cardboard cutouts made with Steinbach’s image, as shown in paparazzi photos published by PEOPLE.
Steinbach claims Fiji asked her “to sign away her rights in the moniker ‘Fiji Water Girl,'” authorize the use of her likeness, and “pressured” her to record a fake signing to show she signed on as a Fiji Water Ambassador. She says she didn’t agree.
“The fake document Steinbach fake signed in the potential future promotional video was not an agreement,” Steinbach’s attorney Kimberly Buffington writes in the complaint. “The fake document was not signed by Fiji Water and was later destroyed by Steinbach.”
Steinbach estimates the “Fiji Water Girl” moniker garnered at least $12 million in terms of brand exposure.
In a statement provided to EW, a spokesperson for Fiji Water 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.”
“Suing Fiji Water was a last resort for Ms. Cuthbert who had hoped to discretely resolve this dispute,” reads a statement issued by Steinbach’s reps after the filing of the lawsuit. “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.”
On Jan. 8, Golden Globes night, Steinbach caught eyes when she appeared to be photobombing celebrities like Judy Greer and Idris Elba on the red carpet.
Speaking with PEOPLE, she said those pics came about by simply “looking at the camera at the right time.”
“There’s tons of photographers everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you stand, you’re in the crossfire of every shot,” Steinbach said. “You’ve gotta have good face, at least, if you’re gonna be hovering in the background frequently.”
This article has been updated with a new statement by Steinbach.