LOS ANGELES – Popular Internet gossip columnist Perez Hilton had his Web site shut down for several hours after the company hosting it received a flurry of complaints about copyrighted photos being posted on PerezHilton.com.
The Web site was down for several hours Tuesday, and by Wednesday was back up but being hosted by a different Internet service provider.
The gossip columnist, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, is the target of several lawsuits by paparazzi and others who claim he posts their photos and video content on his site without permission.
Celebrity photographers make hundreds of thousands of dollars selling exclusive images to magazines and Web sites each year. The agencies that have sued Lavandeira say he has refused to pay fees to license the photos, claiming he has a right as a journalist to use the images for free.
The Web site routinely posts tabloid photos of celebrities and adds scribbled commentary and rudimentary doodles. Lavandeira defends his actions, saying his commentary constitutes "fair use" and is protected by copyright law.
Los Angeles photo agency X17 Inc. sued Lavandeira in federal court last year, asking for $7.6 million in damages. The suit claimed Hilton used 51 photographs without permission, payment or credit, including images of a pregnant Katie Holmes, Kevin Federline pumping gas and Britney Spears.
A federal judge denied the company's motion for an injunction against the site, although the lawsuit continues, as does another filed on behalf of several other photo agencies. A lawsuit filed by Universal Studios claiming the site posted a stolen photo of Jennifer Aniston from the film "The Break-Up" is also pending.
X17 co-owner Brandy Navarre said the company has sent more than a dozen notices to the Australian Web hosting company Crucial Paradigm in the past two weeks, demanding that copies of copyrighted photos on the Perezhilton.com site be removed.
"They quickly realized it wasn't worth taking on this liability just to host this one client who was a repeat infringer," Navarre said Thursday.
Tuesday, Crucial Paradigm sent a strongly worded letter to the company that represents Lavandeira, saying it had received numerous complaints of copyright violations and warning that one more complaint would result in the site being taken offline.
"Please note that with any other provider this would have been done a long time ago, and moving your site to another provider will not solve this issue," the letter read. "Continued abuse is leaving us more liable each day, which we can't afford."
Crucial Paradigm did not respond to a request for comment. The site's new host also did not immediately return a call for comment. Lavandeira, reached by cell phone, referred all comment to his attorney.
"Having lost its attempt in court to stop perezhilton.com when the judge denied their injunction attempt, X17 now seems to brazenly admit to resorting to threats and intimidation in an attempt to shut down the Web site," Bryan J. Freedman, Lavandeira's lawyer, said Thursday.
The site is now hosted by a company called Blogads, which places ads on various Web blogs, including Perezhilton.com.