The estate of legendary hip-hop photographer Chi Modu is suing Universal Music Group (UMG) for copyright infringement over its use of an iconic photo of Tupac Shakur on a blog post.
Modu’s estate filed a lawsuit against UMG on June 24. The suit accuses UMG of copyright infringement for using Modu’s photo of Shakur and crediting Universal Music Archives in a Best Tupac Songs: 26 Essential Tracks post on a site owned and operated by the company.
Modu’s estate, which is overseen by its trustee Sophia Modu, alleges Universal Music Group removed his copyright information before publishing and profited off the use of the image.
Billboard reports that the article was originally published on June 16, 2019, what would have been Shakur’s 48th birthday. It has since been updated a number of times, with the current publication date listed as June 16, 2022.
The complaint claims that the estate sent a cease and desist to Universal Music Group and the site on February 9 threatening a lawsuit, to which “defendants failed to meaningfully respond.”
The complaint has accused Universal Music Group and 10 unnamed and unidentified co-defendants of copyright infringement, as well as vicarious and/or contributory copyright infringement.
The complaint alleges that the defendant profited off the use of the copyright infringement and that they violated 17 U.S. Code 1202 by removing Modu’s copyright information from the photograph before publishing it.
“Chi Modu’s photography captured moments of profundity and grace,” Scott Burroughs, attorney for the estate, says in a statement.
“While it does not surprise me that it would appeal to Universal, we are disappointed that the company did not reach out to the Estate to procure a license before exploiting Mr. Modu’s work on its commercial website. We look forward to addressing this infringement in court.”
Modu’s estate is seeking a jury trial and an award of all profits and fees, as well as the removal of the photograph, and damages. Billboard reports that statutory damages for copyright infringement can reach up to $150,000 per violation.
Modu, who died last year, captured some of the most famous and celebrated photographs of the biggest names in Hip Hop including the Notorious B.I.G, Ice Cube, Mac Miller, and Diddy. The image of Shakur in question in this current lawsuit is one that appeared in the Rolling Stone book The ‘90s: The Inside Stories from the Decade That Rocked.
This is not the first time, Modu’s estate has been involved in a legal dispute. Earlier this month, Biggie Smalls’ estate said that Modu’s copyright as a photographer was irrelevant.
Notorious BIG LLC, set up by the mother and wife of Christopher Wallace, a.k.a Biggie Smalls, asked a Los Angeles judge to stop Sophia Modu from selling merchandise with her late husband’s photos of the rapper, claiming it violates their right to publicity.
Image credits: Header photo Creative Commons.