A controversial tweet by Donald Trump Jr. (Screen shot from David Kittos’ complaint, Civil Action No. 1:16-cv-9818)

In mid-September, Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted an ad for the Trump/Pence campaign that featured a photograph of a bowl of Skittles. The ad read, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”

Anti-immigrant rhetoric and improper punctuation weren’t the only problems with this tweet. The Trump campaign was not authorized to use the Skittles photo, which is copyrighted by British photographer David Kittos — himself a former refugee.

Now, Kittos is suing Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence, and other members of the Trump campaign over the Skittles tweet. On October 18, Kittos filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging “wrongful acts of copyright infringement.”


David Kittos, “White Bowl of Candies” (2010) (Screen shot from David Kittos’ complaint, Civil Action No. 1:16-cv-9818)

Kittos, whose day job is in tech, took the Skittles photograph in 2010. He called it “White Bowl of Candy” and posted it to his personal Flickr account with all rights reserved. The lawsuit argues there’s no way the photo in Trump Jr.’s tweet is not Kittos’: “Each piece of candy in the Photograph is randomly placed inside of the bowl, allowing their bright and boastful colors to become the centerpiece of the image,” the complaint states. “It would be beyond difficult to accurately recreate such a vivid image, given the challenge of replicating the exact lighting and exposure of the image, as well as assembling the arrangement of the candies.” Kittos says the photo is an original work of authorship that is protected under the US Copyright Act.

The lawsuit also states that the Skittles ad is: “reprehensibly offensive to Plaintiff as he is a refugee of the Republic of Cyprus who was forced to flee his home at the age of six years old.”

“It’s pretty ironic that he would steal an image from a refugee to make a statement against refugees,” Heather Blaise, Kittos’ Chicago-based attorney, told the Chicago Tribune. The ad remained on Donald Trump Jr’s Twitter account until September 27, when Kittos’ attorney contacted Twitter and demanded that it be removed. Blaise sent letters to the defendants last week, seeking a public apology and a monetary award. When they did not respond, Kittos filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit doesn’t specify a monetary amount, only that it seeks “actual damages and the Defendants’ additional profits, direct or indirect, attributable” to the image. This includes the amount of money for which Kittos would have charged to license the photograph to the Trump campaign. “In this case, we have a plaintiff who will say there’s not enough money in the world that he could have given me to license this work,” Blaise said.

The Wrigley company, which owns Skittles, said it has nothing to do with the lawsuit. But Wrigley did issue a statement in response to the Trump campaign’s ad: “Skittles are candy,” it said. “Refugees are people.”

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.