Netflix Sued for $1 Million Over Use of Instagram Photo in ‘Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker’

A Kentucky man accuses the streamer of defamation and misappropriation over the film about Caleb “Kai” McGillvary

"The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker" (Netflix)

Kentucky resident Taylor Hazelwood is suing Netflix for $1 million for the streamer’s use of his Instagram photo in the “Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker” true-crime documentary film.

Hazelwood filed the complaint in Texas, accusing Netflix of defamation and misappropriation of likeness or right of publicity after a photo he posted to Instagram was used in the documentary, which centers on Caleb “Kai” McGillvary, a wandering man who intervened during a woman’s assault on the side of the highway. Video of the incident then went viral and made him famous. McGillvary was later convicted of murder of Joseph Galfy.

According to the lawsuit, obtained by TheWrap, the film — which was released Jan. 12, 2023 — “inappropriately used Hazelwood’s photograph and depicts him in a sinister light.”

Taken in June 2019, the photo shows Hazelwood holding a hatchet, which “reminded him of his favorite childhood book, ‘Hatchet’ by Gary Paulsen” so he “decided to take a picture with the tool and post it on his personal Instagram page.” He tagged the author with the book.

The picture shows up paired with audio saying “stone-cold killer” and text captions stating “You can never trust anyone,” followed by pictures of McGillvary.

The complaint says Hazelwood has suffered from “reputational harm, stress, anxiety and anguish” due to the use of the photo in the documentary. It also causes him “a constant fear of losing future employment or relationships because of people believing he is dangerous or untrustworthy.”

“Mr. Hazelwood is not connected, in any way, to Mr. McGillvary or his story,” the complaint adds.

The documentary traces the rise and fall of McGillvary after his appearance on the local news to explain his interference in the incident of the woman after hitching a ride with Jett McBride in 2013. He stated that he stepped in with his hatchet to ward off McBride after he hit a person with his car and tried to assault a passerby.

 McGillvary also appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” But in 2019, he was convicted for the murder of 73-year-old attorney Joseph Galfy and sentenced to 57 years in prison. He claimed self defense after Galfy drugged and raped him.

Pameli Chelin contributed to this report.