Dispute Over Instagram Influencer’s Account Continues

by Jessica R. Corpuz
The IP Law Blog

The Second Circuit recently reversed an injunction stripping designer and Instagram influencer Hayley Paige Gutman of her Instagram accounts in a dispute with her former business partners.

Ms. Gutman is a wedding dress designer and used the Instagram account @misshayleypaige to promote her designs and as a personal account. She entered into agreement with the brand JLM Couture Inc. in 2011, where she agreed not to compete with JLM and granted JLM permission to use her name. When the relationship became contentious, JLM filed suit against Ms. Gutman and sought an injunction enforcing her non-compete clause, seeking turnover of her Instagram account, and prohibiting her from using her own name in commerce. The district court, among other things, ordered that Ms. Gutman’s @misshayleypaige (and other accounts) be turned over to JLM.

The Second Circuit struck the district court’s order regarding the Instagram account. In a divided opinion, the Second Circuit held that the trial court had not determined that the disputed accounts did not belong to Ms. Gutman. The court stated, “Gutman signed away several of her rights to JLM, but she never forfeited her right to keep property that is legally hers…. The district court may well determine that some or all of the disputed accounts do not belong to Gutman, or that additional relief is nevertheless appropriate. But absent such determinations, JLM may not assert exclusive dominion over accounts Gutman controlled at the time [the] suit commenced.” A partial dissent noted that preventing a person from using their own name is an “extraordinary step.”

The district court can reevaluate the factors laid out by the Second Circuit and reconsider the injunction as to the Instagram account. In fact, the parties have already disagreed as to how the district court is to proceed in light of the Second Circuit’s ruling.

This ruling underscores the difficulty in using a personal Instagram account for professional purposes. It is very common for Influencers to use their own name in business, and they may be unaware that they are signing agreements giving brands the rights to use their names.  They may find themselves shut out of their own accounts, or in protracted litigation about their accounts like Ms. Gutman.

The case is JLM Couture, Inc. v. Gutman, S.D.N.Y., No. 20-10575.