Courts: Rapper Rick Ross Allowed to Use Persona Based on Real Drug Dealer Rick Ross
A California appeals court has ruled that Rick Ross cannot sue Rick Ross for using the name Rick Ross.
Hip hop artist Rick Ross, known in his previous life as William Leonard Roberts II, hit the music scene hard when he created his Rick Ross persona.
Ross apparently based the persona on a notorious drug dealer from the 1980s named Ricky D. Ross.
That dealer, who was also known as Freeway, read an article about an up-and-coming rapper named Rick Ross, put two and two together, and decided to take legal action.
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Rick Ross sued Rick Ross for being Rick Ross.
Everybody got that?
Rick Ross got famous by rapping about being a big-time drug lord behind a narcotics syndicate. It's all over his first big hit, 2005's "Hustlin." But in 2008, the hip-hop community was shocked to learn that not only were Ross's stories all fiction, but Ross had been on the other side of the law, as a onetime corrections officer in Florida. Ross raps frequently about Miami and reportedly lives in Broward County. Ross was shot at on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale in January 2012.
Ross has admitted to being taken by Freeway's life story, but has always denied basing his entire persona on the former drug lord.
But the coincidences were too much for Freeway. So he sent the rapper several cease-and-desist letters from prison.
Freeway was eventually released in 2009. And it was then that he decided to sue Rick Ross and record labels Maybach Music Group, Slip-N-Slide Records and Universal Music.
However, a Los Angeles County judge threw out the case on Monday, citing California's Celebrities Rights Act, which protects a celebrity's publicity rights, be they dead or alive.
The judge said the statute of limitations had run out since Roberts began calling himself Rick Ross in 2005
Moreover, Second Appellate District panel found that Roberts' First Amendment rights allowed him to become Rick Ross.
"We recognize that Roberts' work - his music and persona as a rap musician - relies to some extent on plaintiff's name and persona," Presiding Justice Roger Boren wrote for the court. "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 imposter 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. A work is transformative if it adds 'new expression.'"
Basically, Rick Ross the rapper does bear some resemblance to Freeway's life as a drug lord. But the courts say that it's only one "raw material" in his art. It's not a literal depiction, and Ross' music is his own original work.
"It is merely a minor detail when viewed in the context of the larger story," Judge Boren concluded.
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