Trump campaign faces lawsuit over 'humiliating' ad comparing refugees to Skittles

It was a campaign ad that ignited a firestorm: Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a photo of a bowl of Skittles and compared the candy to Syrian refugees. Now the man who took the photo is suing the Trump campaign for copyright infringement.

Photographer calls Donald Trump Jr.'s use of his Skittles photo 'reprehensible'

This photo of a bowl of Skittles is the subject of a lawsuit launched against the Trump campaign by the photographer, a former refugee who found it 'humiliating' for his work to be used to disparage Syrian refugees. (David Kittos)

It was a campaign ad that ignited a firestorm: Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a photo of a bowl of skittles and compared the colourful candy to Syrian refugees.

Now, the man who took the photo is suing Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence for copyright infringement.

David Kittos, an expert photographer and former Cypriot refugee, says he never gave permission and never would give permission for his photo to be used in the ad.

"The image, the way it was used is reprehensible," said Kittos from his home in Surrey, England, in an interview with CBC News.

"It's ignoring the plight of the refugees and it's completely unacceptable that someone who was born into privilege would steal my picture and use it to make this political point."

Dangerous Skittles

On Sept. 19, Trump Jr. posted Kittos's photo with the caption: "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."

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted this campaign ad on Sept. 19. It has since been removed from Twitter. (Twitter)

Trump's election campaign has called for "extreme vetting" of immigrants to the U.S., especially Muslims, to help weed out anyone who could be a danger to American citizens.

While Trump's position is popular with some Americans, his eldest son's tweet ignited outrage on social media.

"Sorry kid. For all we know you could be a poisonous Skittle," someone tweeted along with a well-known photo of an injured and bloodied young Syrian boy.

"The stupidity ensues," commented another person.

Even the Skittles owner, Wrigleys America, weighed in. "Skittles are candy. Refugees are people," tweeted Denise Young, vice-president of corporate affairs.

'Humiliating' use of photo

Kittos says when he first saw the tweet, he was "in shock." He explains he took the photo in 2010 as an experiment using artificial lighting and posted it on Flickr.

"I just couldn't believe my humble picture of some Skittles would just be used by someone so powerful."

Kittos also hated the ad's message about refugees. When he was six years old, he and his family fled their home in Cyprus when Turkish forces invaded in 1974.

David Kittos in Surrey, England, has filed a lawsuit in an Illinois court against the Trump campaign, claiming copyright infringement. (David Kittos)

"I remember being very scared," says Kittos. But he says his experience hardly compares with the plight of Syrian refugees, who don't deserve to be compared to candy.

"Honestly, it's humiliating that my work was used in this way."

Kittos says his lawyer reached out to the Trump campaign to discuss the matter but got no response.

So he reported a copyright violation to Twitter, and about a week after it was posted his Skittles photo was removed from Trump Jr.'s tweet.

'Not above the law'

Even though his photo is no longer connected to the ad, Kittos decided to file a lawsuit at a federal court in Illinois.

He says he wants to ensure the Trump campaign never uses the work again. As well, he wants to spread the message that "they can't go around stealing from authors like myself. They're not above the law."

The Trump campaign told CBC News it's not commenting on the case at this time.

In September, Donald Trump Jr. defended the tweet. 'I am surprised by the reaction simply because it is a metaphor for risk,' he said at a campaign stop in Boise, Idaho. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Back in September, Trump Jr. defended the tweet. "I am surprised by the reaction simply because it is a metaphor for risk," he said at a campaign stop in Boise, Idaho.

Kittos is seeking yet to be determined damages as part of the lawsuit.

But he says he's not in it for the money and would have settled at the start for a public apology.

Because that didn't happen, he says he's pursuing the lawsuit because "it's the right thing to do."


Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris covers business and consumer news. Contact:


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