Yes kids, there is no Santa Claus. And Rick Ross, despite his various boasts, is not actually "Rick Ross." Nor is he "Larry Hoover," "Big Meech," or any other real-life drug dealers whom he emulates in his quest to push more platinum albums.
Hate the player, not the game. Just don't sue the player for misappropriation of your identity, even if his entire career is based off of your real-life exploits.
Ladies and gentlemen: we introduce you to William Leonard Roberts II, a prison guard turned rapper. Knowing, of course, that police, corrections officers, and any other positions of authority would not translate well into an industry dominated by much-exaggerated feats of criminality, he adopted the moniker, persona, and beard of a man who could not easily object -- an imprisoned 80s drug kingpin who once sold millions of dollars worth of cocaine per day, the real Rick Ross.
Real Rick Ross (the Felon/Plaintiff)
One number says it all: $2.5 billion. In the 1980s, when the "crack epidemic" took hold, legend (and Esquire magazine) has it that the businessman behind most of it was "Freeway" Rick Ross, whose connections and business acumen allowed him to do $2.5 billion in sales (translated to modern day figures), with $850 million in profit.
His Nicaraguan connection was a confidential informant, and the increasingly credible rumor is that the CIA was funneling crack, through Ross, into the 'hood, and using the money to fund the Iran/Contra rebels. After finishing his first sentence, he was lured by the informant into another deal, this time resulting in a life sentence and a third strike.
Ross made legal history when, after spending years reading every legal book he could find in prison, and with the help of appointed counsel, he convinced the Ninth Circuit that because his two previous convictions arose out of the same offense, he only had two total strikes. His sentence was shortened to 20 years. He's now a free man.
Faux Rick Ross (the Artist/Defendant)
Officer Ricky had no street cred, as the kids would say. So he adopted Freeway Rick Ross' persona, shaved head, and full beard. He released the Port of Miami album in 2005, and many others since. He's a multi-platinum rap superstar, who has built a career out of a lie.
Building a career is the point though, per the California Appellate Court. Real Rick sued Fake Rick for copyright, misappropriation of identity, and a handful of other claims, but lost on summary judgment. Though there were issues of the statute of limitations, and whether each album was an individually cognizable claim or whether the "single publication" rule applied. The trial court ruled for the rapper on both accounts, and while the appellate court was unsure if the lower court was correct, in the end, the appellate court found a third issue -- the applicability of the transformative use test -- to be an easier way to dispose of Real Rick's claims.
Officer Ricky took a persona, and a damn good story, and made it into a new thing, some might say a caricature, instead of merely living off of the name. The court felt that the transformation that occurred here was closer to that found in Winter, where a comic was based on half-human portrayals of two rock stars, than Comedy III, where the portrayal was a lifelike lithograph on a T-shirt.
The court noted that a "subsidiary inquiry," used in borderline cases, asks whether the "marketability and economic value of the challenged work derive primarily from the fame of the celebrity." That may have been true in the rapper's pre-fame days, but today, one might even argue that the benefit flows the other way -- an entire generation of Americans knows the name due to the rap game, not the crack game.
- Ricky D. Ross v. William Leonard Roberts II (California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District)
- Rick Ross Hears Shooting, Crashes Rolls Royce (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
- California's First Legal Action Against Alleged Revenge Porn Site Owner (FindLaw's California Case Law Blog)