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California Woman Files $2 Billion Lawsuit Against Chipotle After Company Uses her Photo

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A California woman is suing the popular fast-casual burrito chain Chipotle, alleging that the company used a photo of her in its advertisements, but that she never gave it permission to do so. Leah Caldwell, the plaintiff, is asking for over $2 billion, specifically $2,237,633,000, arguing that the company has made that much money off of the use of her photo that was taken in 2006.

Caldwell claims that she was sitting down to eat at one of the chain’s stores in Colorado, when a photographer snapped her photo without asking permission first. While he then asked her to sign a release to use the photo,  Caldwell claims that she left the store without signing it, thereby preventing Chipotle from using the photo. That photographer, Steve Adams, is also listed as a defendant, along with the food chain.

Caldwell says that she then saw the photo of her in multiple promotional materials in Florida and California in 2014 and 2015, and that alcohol had been photoshopped onto the table in front of her. While the photo was taken in 2006, she didn’t see the picture being used in any promotional materials until 2014, so she didn’t sue before then. She has filed the suit in the U.S. District Court in Colorado.

Some of the news outlets who picked up the story pointed out–perhaps rightly so–that Caldwell’s estimate for how much she is “owed” for the picture is a bit high. Caldwell got the $2 billion-plus number by adding up the total of all of Chipotle’s profits from 2006-2015, and believes that Chipotle’s 2016 profits, when they are calculated, should be added to her paycheck as well. But that would mean that all the profits the company made in that eight year period were attributable to her photo. As Lee Morris pf FStoppers–a site dedicated to providing news for photographers–pointed out:

I don’t think there is any doubt that Caldwell should be compensated for this error, but $2.2 billion may be a bit high. Ten thousand dollars and a year’s supply of burritos would be more than enough to compensate for the error, don’t you think?

Chipotle has not made a statement about the lawsuit yet, except to say that it does not comment on pending cases.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Lead Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.

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