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Rick Ross Allowed To Keep His Rap Name Due To The First Amendment
Posted by Joseph Lee on 12.31.2013



According to The Hollywood Reporter, Rick Ross has defeated a lawsuit from a former drug kingpin named "Freeway" Ricky Ross, who was a big name in the Los Angeles drug scene in the 1980s. He once sold as much as $3 million worth of cocaine a day, had ties with the Nicaraguan Contras and was the enemy of several politicians during the Iran-Contra scandal. He served thirteen years in prison and was released in 2009.

That's when he heard about "up-and-coming" rappers including William Roberts II, who uses the stage name Rick Ross. "Freeway" has been trying to get money from Roberts in court for using his name and likeness. Other defendants in the $10 million lawsuit included Warner Bros. Records, Universal Music and Jay Z. All were accused of helping Roberts get famous with a stolen identity.

The problem, however, is that "Freeway" knew about Roberts since 2006 but didn't file a lawsuit until 2010. The judge has ruled that his claims were "untimely". In an appeal, "Freeway" challenged whether Roberts' work with a new label should be part of the same "single publication" as his earlier work or if it should be a "republication" that gave him more time to bring in claims.

"Freeway" said: "This is classic republication as to all defendants, there was consistently new music, management decisions and product made. The statute of limitations was never meant to be used to hide defendants actively infringing with new decisions and campaigns."

California appeals court's Judge Roger Boren said he's "not convinced" that the trial court was correct but supported their decision to dismiss the suit based on First Amendment. There was some evidence to suggest that Rick Ross used Ricky Ross to come up with his persona. At one point he said that Ricky's life story "grabbed him", but that his performing name was based on his high school football nickname of "big boss."

The judge decided to view the case through other cases that involved a celebrity's right to control commercial exploitation of his or her likeness against another individual's right to "free expression". One involved an artist who sold lithographs and T-shirts with the faces of the Three Stooges. The question was if the use of celebrity likeness was one of the "raw materials" from an original work or if the depiction or imitation is the substance of the work.

Boren wrote: "We recognize that Roberts' work—his music and persona as a rap musician—relies to some extent on plaintiff's name and persona. Roberts chose to use the name 'Rick Ross.' He raps about trafficking in cocaine and brags about his wealth. These were 'raw materials' from which Roberts' music career was synthesized. But these are not the 'very sum and substance' of Roberts' work. Roberts created a celebrity identity, using the name Rick Ross, of a cocaine kingpin turned rapper. He was not simply an impostor seeking to profit solely off the name and reputation of Rick Ross. Rather, he made music out of fictional tales of dealing drugs and other exploits—some of which related to plaintiff. Using the name and certain details of an infamous criminal's life as basic elements, he created original artistic works."





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