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One of our favorite lawsuits this year has just been tossed.
A federal judge in Los Angeles has rejected a $10 million claim by a self-proclaimed former drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross against the rapper Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Def Jam, UMG, Vivendi, and others.
Ross filed the lawsuit in June alleging that the eponymous hip hop star had stolen his name and identity and that Jay-Z had led a commercial conspiracy that traded upon the notorious exploits of the inner-city crime legend.
“Freeway” Ricky Ross was convicted of running a drug empire that covered Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s. He became nationally known when he was linked to the CIA’s “Iran-Contra” political scandal and had been the object of scorn for many prominent politicians.
In 1995, he was released from prison and claims that his name has gained value and goodwill since then. He also asserted a trademark over his name since his celebrity has conferred it with a secondary meaning. In an amended complaint, Ross also pointed out that he had licensed his name for the film, 100 Kilos.
Ross targeted the rapper Rick Ross, whose second LP “Trilla” sold 500,000 units and debuted at the top of the Billboard charts.
Ross sued on many counts, but after withdrawing some of his claims, he was still pursuing the defendants for trademark violations, unfair competition, and misappropriation of his publicity rights.
In deciding to dismiss the case on summary judgement, Judge Percy Anderson analyzed the defendant’s alleged violations of the Lanham Act. He rules that the plaintiff can’t win a trademark infringement claim or on grounds of unfair competition because “Freeway” Ricky Ross can’t legitimately show he has trademark rights to his name.
Judge Anderson dismissed the plaintiff’s publicity rights claims too, declining to address the merits of his allegation because it was a state-based claim and he had federal jurisdiction. If the former drug kingpin wants to pursue the case further, and take advantage of California’s generous laws protecting the names and likenesses of celebrities, “Freeway” Ricky Ross still has the opportunity to refile a more narrow lawsuit in state court.
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