LOS ANGELES – ENSO LAW has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court Central District of California, Western Division (Case No. 2:23-cv-03168-GW-KS) for copyright infringement, inducing copyright infringement, unfair competition, and violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act on behalf of Los Angeles-based Jamaican born creative director and photographer Abdullah Webster against Urban Outfitters, Penske Media Corporation, and Mariah Angelique Perez, also known as “Mariah Angeliq Latina La Princesa de Miami.” The lawsuit aims to shine a light on the practice of large companies profiting from the theft of intellectual property owned and created by young and gifted artists.
In 2021, Abdullah Webster, a young up-and-coming Black photographer in the highly competitive Los Angeles film, entertainment, and music industry, through his company Hexlastudios, was asked to take photographs of Mariah Angeliq for non-commercial use. Mariah, also known as the “Latina La Princesa de Miami”, is a young reggaeton, trap, and R&B artist of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent born in Miami whose pop/urban/R&B mix and fresh lyrics have made her a star in the music industry. Mariah did not compensate Webster for the photoshoot. Before, during, and after the photoshoot, Webster put Mariah on notice that all of the photographs taken belonged to his company, Hexlastudios and that she may only post photographs for non-commercial purposes on social media, so long as she attributed the work to him and Hexlastudios.
From the photo shoot, one photo was favored above the others.
A week after the photo shoot, Mariah’s representative requested Webster provide her with a copy of the photograph. Knowing Mariah was put on notice of Hexlastudios’ rights to the photograph and the narrow promotional use Mariah agreed to and was permitted, Webster provided Mariah with the picture.
Soon after receiving the photograph, Maraiah sold the photograph to Urban Outfitters, Inc. and Penske Media Corporation for use in the promotion of Latin Music Week, Mariah’s music release, performances during Latin Music Week, for use on clothing to be sold on Urban Outfitters and affiliate websites and in Urban Outfitters stores, as well as to drive traffic to Urban Outfitters website and Billboard Music’s website.
“A lot of people in this business understand, like, if I shoot you, it’s like, okay, to post on Instagram,” explained Webster. “Whatever. We’ll take our credit. It’s cool. But the moment you start profiting off of it is an issue because it’s like–hold up when we decided to shoot these photos, they weren’t even taken in the space of being put up for profit. At first, I didn’t know what to do. I met David through my good friend Mitch who was friends with other artists I know, like YG. I just contacted David and he was just like, let’s go.”
Attorney David Welch added, “You have a music industry–and frankly, an entertainment industry that’s built on African American culture. And you have a lot of African American artists that aren’t provided compensation for their work. You have the popular examples like Elvis, who was making money by remaking Black music. But you have that on an everyday basis where you have people that are taken advantage of because they don’t have the resources or knowledge on how to protect themselves. If Abdullah did not contact us, what was he going to do? He was going to let it slide in his mind, use his opportunity to learn what he could have done better in the future, but at the same time, not receive a dime for the work and his talent. You see this on a regular basis and it doesn’t just have to do with Black artists, but it has to do with people that are taken advantage of by the industry because of a lack of knowledge and a lack of resources to develop themselves. And we see that quite a bit. Unfortunately, it’s disproportionately happening in communities of color.”
It took years for Webster to develop significant name recognition in the entertainment world enough for his photography to become a primary source of his income. His clients have included Island Records, RedBull Records, and GUCCI.
Originally from Jamaica, Webster immigrated to America with his family around the age of six. His father died in 2007. Shortly thereafter, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died in 2008. He spent some time in the foster care system. As an adult, he and his brothers have looked out for one another.
“At that time, I didn’t really fully realize what was going on until I got to, like, high school,” said Webster. “So I knew that I wasn’t going to have all the stuff that my parents used to provide for us. I realized that I don’t have a mom and dad. I just have my brothers. We just kind of really held each other down. We still do.”
Webster worked hard and honed his creative skills, including photography, and started his company Hexlastudios during the pandemic.
Webster describes Hexlastudios as a full-service Black-owned production company based in Los Angeles, New Jersey, and New York with a focus on motion and stills.
“I’ve worked with some nice companies, you know. I don’t know how I do it but I do it. I just keep going. These opportunities that I get are not just for myself. They open up doors for everyone that works with me. Since 2021, I’ve probably hired at least 200 people.”
Welch says that Webster just wants what’s fair from Urban Outfitters and the other defendants in the lawsuit.