"Fiji Water Girl" Kelleth Cuthbert suing company that made her famous

By Megan Cerullo

/ MoneyWatch

Kelleth Cuthbert, the Canadian model who stole the red carpet at the Golden Globes for her role as "Fiji Water Girl," is now suing the company that got her noticed.

The fame seeker, whose real name is Kelly Steinbach, appears holding a tray of bottled Fiji Water in the background of hundreds of photographs of celebrities posing at the awards event. The hashtag #FijiWaterGirl generated more than 4,000 Cuthbert-inspired posts on Instagram. Actor Jamie Lee Curtis used the social media platform to take a jab at the brand ambassador — "I specifically moved away from the blatant promotions by Fiji," she wrote — that drew 100,000 likes and 3,000 comments.

Fiji Water, one of the official sponsors of the Golden Globes, has played a role on the awards show's red carpet for more than 10 years. The company says it hired Cuthbert to help hydrate celebs — not photobomb their individual red carpet moments.

Cuthbert said in a KTLA 5 News interview that it was impossible to avoid the cameras from the middle of the pre-show action. "There is not just a camera — there are so many cameras that you are caught in the crossfire no matter where you stand. You're just in somebody's shot. You can't avoid it," she said.

And of course she's a pro when it comes to striking a pose. "You gotta serve looks," she said in the interview. "If you're going to be trapped in a photo, you gotta look good."

The Fiji brand ambassador insists the stunt wasn't deliberate, nor did Fiji instruct her to angle her way into photo frames. "I'm telling you they've been doing this for over a decade — hydrating the stars. At all of these different award shows you can look back and find photos of other girls trapped in photos. It was just on another level," Cuthbert said.

The model is now suing Fiji and parent corporation the Wonderful Company for using her likeness to promote its brand without her permission, she claims. She alleges the companies tried to capitalize on her popularity by launching a "worldwide cardboard-cutout marketing campaign based on the unauthorized use of [her] photograph, likeness and identity."

The suit claims the cardboard cutouts began appearing in grocery stores the day after the awards show, but that no agreement had been reached between the two parties.

Cuthbert also claims the company tried to entice her to "sign away her rights" to the name "Fiji Water Girl." Her legal team estimates she generated more than $12 million of "brand exposure" for the company, according to The Blast.

Fiji Water disputed the claims calling the lawsuit "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," Fiji said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch.

Cuthbert is represented by talent agency Wilhelmina International. A spokesperson said the agency had "absolutely no comment" on the situation.

First published on February 1, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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