Haleigh Nickerson

Haleigh Nickerson, a woman of color, photographer and digital artist based in Los Angeles, last week filed a lawsuit against Diesel and once famed and now controversial photographer, Terry Richardson. The lawsuit filed in federal court alleges willful copyright infringement. The work at issue is Nickerson’s “Sista Soulja” photo, which she created in August 2016. The work which she posted on Instagram. In general, the images show a woman of color wearing a green, red, and black costume in front of a red background with white stars.

The following year, Nickerson claims Diesel included a photo very similar to hers in its new campaign, “Rules for Successful Living,” shot by Terry Richardson. The campaign image shows another woman of color in front of the same background, in a similar pose and wearing clothes of a similar palette. Nickerson called it a “blatant act of infringement.”

Terry Richardson, who was once a famed and in high demand photographer, has lost prestige and prominence since the emergence of the #MeToo movement in 2017, resulting from rape and assault allegations against movie producer, Harvey Weinstein. Several allegations of assault against Richardson has damaged his career. Richardson has denied these allegations but has not been held in the same regard as he was during the height of his career.

Nickerson is also concerned that her artistic work would be tied to Terry Richardson, and as a result, connect her reputation with that of the disgraced photographers.

Nickerson says she was actually in contact with Diesel personnel directly connected to the campaign and even made contact with the model in Diesel’s ad. It was reported in WWD, an online fashion magazine, that the model replied: “Ew, that’s what I hate about the industry … I knew something was wrong … makes me so sad that happened.”

Haleigh Nickerson’s image (left) compared to Terry Richardson’s for a Diesel campaign.

Diesel said the company “rejects” Nickerson’s claims and even told WWD that the shoot at issue was “shot and produced in April 2016 by an outside agency — many months before Ms. Nickerson’s images were published.”

Nickerson says she reached out to Diesel prior to filing her lawsuit, argued that the brand “knowingly and intentionally copied and utilized the most recognizable and constituent elements of the ‘Sista Soulja’ photograph by plaintiff that are original.”

She said the “copying is so brazen that they even copied the name of the work. Plaintiff named her work ‘Sista Soulja.’ Diesel chose to name the image in the Facebook video ‘Sister Siren.’”

Nickerson filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Diesel and photographer, Terry Richardson, stole her work, and is also concerned with the image being associated, in any way, with Richardson and his reputation. She is seeking an injunction of Diesel’s use of the image at issue, an order requiring all such reproductions be destroyed, and that all profits derived from the use of the image be handed over to her, along with unspecified compensatory damages. For such a case to land in federal court, damages being sought typically need to exceed $75,000.