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Paparazzi agency bankrupted by Meghan Markle legal battle

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A major paparazzi shop claims it was forced to file for bankruptcy because of skyrocketing costs in its legal battle against Meghan Markle.

Splash News & Picture Agency, which is being sued by Markle in a privacy lawsuit over photos taken during a “private family outing” in Canada, said it defaulted on a loan now worth nearly $1 million and accordingly was forced to file for Chapter 11 in a Nevada bankruptcy court.

Shot in January 2020, the photos taken with a long lens showed Markle on Vancouver Island walking her two dogs with her baby son Archie in a sling. At the time, Markle and Prince Harry had briefly settled in Canada after first announcing plans to step back from their royal duties.

In December, the BBC and other press outlets reported a settlement, with a Splash rep saying at the time that the agency “will not take unauthorized photographs of the family of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Nevertheless, the case is not fully resolved, Splash said in a Wednesday statement. The agency — which snaps pics of celebs from Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift to Nick Jonas and Lizzo — said it believes Markle brought the lawsuit on behalf of Archie in a move “designed to destroy the business” of the company.

“Having tried unsuccessfully to reach a settlement with the Duchess, it is the view of the Directors that this places an unacceptable risk to the survival of the business, and have regrettably taken the business into Chapter 11 to protect our employees,” Splash said. “We will continue to trade as normal and no jobs will be affected by this announcement.”

According to bankruptcy papers, copyright infringements brought in just over $118,000 in 2020 but just $21,000 last year. That was nowhere close in covering expenses especially in light of the pandemic and the Markle and Servin suits.

A rep for Markle did not respond to requests seeking comment.

As Splash fought for free speech with Markle, it has pursued many celebrities in court. Indeed, the agency is considered one of the pioneers in actions against famous individuals for posting copyrighted images of themselves, and it has faced off against the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Liam Hemsworth and Nicki Minaj.

According to bankruptcy papers, copyright infringements brought in just over $118,000 in 2020 but just $21,000 last year. That was nowhere close in covering expenses especially in light of the pandemic and the Markle and Servin suits.

“The [Markle] case involves free speech related issues under United Kingdom law and, unfortunately, has proven to be too unbearably expensive for Splash to continue its defense,” Splash president Emma Curzon said in a declaration submitted as part of the bankruptcy.

“Furthermore, if the plaintiffs were to prevail in that case it would likely result in a large attorney fee award against Splash,” Curzon added. “Notwithstanding the merits of the case the company has sought to settle this matter but has been unable to agree [on] a financial settlement within its resources.”

Aside from the Markle dustup, Curzon blamed the pandemic, which has kept celebs indoors and away from Splash’s long lenses, as well as another outstanding lawsuit for its financial woes.

“As a consequence of the global pandemic the availability of celebrity images has declined and budgets within media companies have been cut to reflect wider macro-economic challenges,” the exec said in court papers. “This situation has been exacerbated by two ongoing litigation cases and the costs of defending these cases.”

The other case involves a lawsuit from Splash’s former account manager, Esmeralda Sevrin, who claims she was repeatedly subjected to sexist remarks at the company. She also says she was fired after raising concerns about illegal bidding and lack of transparency over Splash’s commission structure.

“Attorney bills have drained, and continue to drain, cash from the business,” Curzon said.

Splash reported Deasil Limited as a secured creditor with a blanket lien on nearly all of its assets. With about $972,000 owed to Deasil, the paparazzi agency has been forced to file for Chapter 11.

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Glasses retailer Warby Parker eyeing IPO as soon as this year

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Hipster glasses retailer Warby Parker is eyeing an initial public offering.

The 11-year-old business, which started out as an e-tailer before rolling out some 130 stores across the US, is considering an IPO as early as this year, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

The New York-based company has amassed a huge customer following by offering less expensive prescription glasses. Warby Parker raised $120 million in its most recent funding round giving it a $3 billion valuation, according to the report.

“We’ve always explored various financing opportunities in both the debt and equity markets,” the company said in a statement. “To date, we have successfully and deliberately raised money within the private market on favorable terms and have plenty of cash on our balance sheet. We’ll continue to make strategic decisions in line with our commitment to sustainable growth.”

Founded by college buddies Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, who met at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Warby Parker has attracted some large investors including the mutual fund company, T. Rowe Price.

It turned it first profit in 2018, Gilboa told The New York Times at the time.

Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal
Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal
Brian Ach/Getty Images

Customers can get prescriptions through their apps on their smartphones and use cameras to pick out frames. The company also has an optical lab in Sloatsburg, NY where it produces lenses.

While Warby Parker is not the least expensive option, it beats Costco in a recent comparison with Costco charging as little a $126 for a pair of prescription glasses compared with Warby Parker’s least expensive pair at $95.

“As consumer walk into a LensCrafters or Sunglass Hut, they see 50 different brands of glasses but don’t realize that all those brands are owned by the same company that owns the store that they’re standing in, that probably owns the vision insurance plan they’r using to pay for those glasses,” Gilboa said in a recent CNBC interview.

“And so, it’s no surprise that a lot of those glasses are marked up 10 to 20 times what they cost to manufacture,” he said.

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Dogecoin hits new high boosted by DogeDay hashtags

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Dogecoin prices hit an all-time high on Tuesday, with a market capitalization above $50 billion, after social media fans used hashtags to fuel a rally in the meme-based cryptocurrency.

An 8,000 percent price surge this year has seen Dogecoin, which was launched as a satirical critique of 2013′s cryptocurrency frenzy, overtake more widely-used cryptocurrencies like Tether to become the fifth-largest coin.

While Dogecoin, whose logo features a Shiba Inu dog at the center of the meme, a represents only a fraction of bitcoin’s $1 trillion value, it can be traded on crypto exchanges and more popular mainstream trading apps.

“The Doge rally represents an interesting convergence,” said Diana Biggs, CEO of crypto start-up Valour, after Dogecoin’s price soared by more than five-fold in the last week to a record 42 cents, according to CoinMarketCap.

“A meme coin created as a joke for early crypto adopters whose community found that kind of thing to be fun, with now a new generation of retail investors for whom memes are a native language,” Biggs added.

Dogecoin fans used the hashtags #DogeDay and #DogeDay420 to post memes, messages and videos on Twitter, Reddit and TikTok, referring to the informal April 20 holiday to celebrate cannabis which is marked by smoke-ins and street parties.

“GIMME THAT DOGECOIN LAMBO!!! #DogeDay” one tweeted, referring to the Lamborghini car popular in crypto culture.

Dogecoin’s rise has come amid a surge in online trading of stocks and crypto by retail investors, stuck at home with extra cash because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has not coincided with a growth in usage of the coin for payments or in commerce.

The same trend has spurred a boom in usage of online trading apps like Robinhood, and also fueled the social-media driven rally in GameStop stock that pitted retail investors against hedge funds earlier this year.

“It’s an extension of the same phenomenon that has led Tesla stock to be valued well beyond fundamentals and more recently to the GME (GameStop) short squeeze,” said Ajit Tripathi, head of institutional business at decentralised finance startup Aave.

Like other cryptocurrencies, Dogecoin’s price is heavily influenced by social media users including Tesla chief Elon Musk, whose tweets on the cryptocurrency in February sent its price soaring over 60 percent.

“If this goes as planned and everybody including Mr. Musk go ahead and just pour money into Doge on April 20th all at once Doge will reach prices that originally were not even conceptual,” a TikTok user said in a video promoting the coin.



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Amazon is opening a beauty salon in London

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Amazon is opening a hair salon in London — its latest odd lurch into new businesses as the pandemic continues to fuel the e-commerce giant’s torrid growth.

The Amazon Salon, unveiled in a Tuesday blog post, will occupy a two-story, 1,500-square-foot space in Spitalfields, a trendy neighborhood in East London that is also home to Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.

Indeed, the new salon, which will be open seven days a week, initially will only cater to Amazon workers. Members of the public will be able to make bookings in “the coming weeks” by calling, emailing or visiting the salon, the company says.

“This will be an experiential venue where we showcase new products and technology,” Amazon said in a blog post on Tuesday, adding that there are no plans to open other salons.

That will include making Amazon’s Fire tablets available at each station, allowing customers to use augmented reality technology to see what they look like as a platinum blonde, brunette or with highlights, the company said.

The salon is located at Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.
The salon is located at Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.
Amazon

The salon will also test new “point-and-learn” technology, where customers can point at a product they are interested in on a display shelf and the relevant information, including brand videos and educational content, will appear on a display screen.

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