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Notorious B.I.G. Estate Settles Lawsuit Against Famed Photographer Over World Trade Center Image

Mr. Nimbus | 01/19/2024

Notorious B.I.G.’s estate has reached a settlement with the widow of late hip hop photographer Chi Modu, resolving long-running litigation over other merch bearing Modu’s famed image of the late rapper standing in front of the World Trade Center.


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Biggie’s estate sued in 2019, claiming Modu had illegally authorized the use of his 1996 photograph of the rapper (real name Christopher Wallace) on commercial products like skateboards and shower curtains. In 2022, a judge ruled that such merch likely violated the rapper’s likeness rights.

Terms of the settlement, first disclosed in a court filing on Thursday, were not made public. But the estate’s attorney, Staci Jennifer Trager of the law firm Nixon Peabody, said she and her client were “satisfied to bring this high-profile matter to an end.”

“Pictures of Christopher cannot be commercially exploited without a license from our client,” Trager said. “The settlement agreement is a testament to the dedication of our client as well as our team members in staying the course over several years.”

An attorney for Modu’s widow (the photographer himself passed away in 2021) did not immediately return a request for comment.

A longtime photographer for The Source, Modu captured images of some of hip-hop’s biggest names, including Tupac Shakur, Mary J. Blige, Mobb Deep and LL Cool J. In a 1996 cover shoot for the magazine, he snapped several images of Biggie standing in front of the Twin Towers – a year before the rapper was shot and killed, and five years before the towers were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.

In a 2011 interview, Modu said the shoot was partly inspired by the lyric in Biggie’s “Juicy,” in which he references the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center with the line “‘blow up like the World Trade.’”

“When the idea came to me to represent Notorious B.I.G as the King of New York, I thought what better setting than to have two of the quintessential New York City buildings in the background,” Modu said at the time. “This image remains fresh and can help to further immortalize these icons in the hearts and minds of a generation.”

But in 2019, Biggie’s estate took Modu to court over the image. In their complaint, they argued that he had moved beyond merely selling his image – and that he was instead trying to profit by exploiting the rapper’s likeness “in complete disregard for BIG’s rights.” The estate claimed that Modu had improperly licensed the image for use on snowboards, skateboards, shower curtains, NFTs and other goods.

“Unfortunately, when an artist’s work has touched people so significantly, there are often usurpers that want to capitalize on that connection,” the rapper’s lawyers wrote. “A strong brand attracts parasites that attempt to create profits through no work of their own.”

In June 2022, the federal judge overseeing the case granted a preliminary injunction to the estate. The judge was careful to rule that the photographer’s estate could continue to sell physical and digital reprints of his image, but that other merchandise likely violated Biggie’s likeness rights.

“Plaintiff’s use of Wallace’s image to promote and sell such merchandise constitutes an exploitation of his likeness on an unrelated product for that purpose, which extends beyond control of the artistic work itself,” the judge wrote at the time.

Since that ruling, the estate’s case against Modu’s estate and others had been moving toward a trial, with proceedings set to kick off next month.

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus

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