Fiji Water fires back in legal battle with model who photobombed Golden Globes

Company claims woman known as Fiji water girl breached a contract.
Image: FIJI Water At The 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards
Susan Geston and Jeff Bridges at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 6 at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.Stefanie Keenan / Getty Images for FIJI Water

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By David K. Li

Fiji Water Co. fired back in a legal battle with the woman who became known as the Fiji water girl when she appeared in the background of numerous celebrity shots at the Golden Globes last month.

The company responded to a lawsuit by Kelleth Cuthbert, whose real name is Kelly Steinbach, by countersuing in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday.

The complaint alleges that Cuthbert breached her deal with the company and showed '"simple greed" by filing a lawsuit against Fiji Water.

Cuthbert was on the red carpet at the Golden Globes on Jan. 6, passing out water and getting into the background of numerous celebrity pictures, leading to the Fiji water girl moniker on social media.

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Then last week, Cuthbert sued Fiji Water, claiming the company had no authorization to use the pictures from the awards ceremony in a massive marketing campaign.

In its counterclaim, Fiji included what it said was an email exchange between the company and Cuthbert's agent that appeared to show her agreeing to $90,000 to be its "brand ambassador."

"Ms. Steinbach reneged on the valid agreement ... and instead attempted to extort close to a half a million dollars from Fiji because she wanted a better deal than the original $90,000 she had originally accepted in exchange for such rights," the countersuit claimed.

The filing included an apparent clip of Cuthbert, in a Jan. 9 interview with Los Angeles TV station KTLA, when she is asked if she is now the new "Fiji Water ambassador."

"Yeah brand ambassador." she answered. "I'm so excited to work with them, they're a great brand."

Fiji water also claims it has a signed contract from Cuthbert.

NBC News reached out to Cuthbert's agent for comment but did not immediately hear back. The model's lawyer, Kecia Reynolds, declined comment.

Her publicist said in a statement that "suing Fiji Water was a last resort for Ms. Cuthbert who had hoped to discretely resolve this dispute."

"Fiji Water used her image without a contract, without consent and without paying her, all for Fiji Water’s financial gain. Models make a living off the use of their image. No one would expect other professions to work for free," the statement said.