Notorious B.I.G.’s Estate Settles Lawsuit Over Chi Modu’s Iconic Photos

biggie smalls estate

Notorious B.I.G.’s estate has reached a settlement with the widow of late hip-hop photographer Chi Modu, resolving a long-running dispute over his famed images of the rapper.

In 1996, celebrated rap photographer Modu took a series of images of Biggie Smalls standing in front of the World Trade Center when the rapper was at the height of his fame.

One year later, Notorious B.I.G was shot down in a drive-by homicide. Five years later, the Twin Towers would fall on 9/11.

This set of iconic images taken by Modu went on to become the center of a court case between the heirs of both parties.

The Photographer’s Copyright is ‘Irrelevant’

In 2019, 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.

Biggie’s estate claimed Modu had illegally authorized the use of his 1996 photograph of the rapper on commercial products such as snowboards, skateboards, shower curtains, and NFTs, among other products. Court documents show they supplied a picture of a snowboard with Modu’s images of Biggie.

Biggie Smalls Snowboard

The rapper’s estate argued that it is irrelevant that Modu is the registered copyright owner of the photographs because they claim that the likeness and name of Biggie Smalls appear in the photographs and subsequent merchandise which infringes on Notorious BIG LLC.

When do Photographers Own Their Images of Celebrities?

In 2022, a judge ruled in favor of Notorious B.I.G. LLC and concluded that such merchandise likely violated the rapper’s likeness rights.

Billboard reports that Notorious B.I.G.’s estate reached a settlement with Sophia Modu, according to a court filing on Thursday.

While the terms of the settlement were not made public, attorneys for Notorious B.I.G.’s estate say that their client is “satisfied to bring this high-profile matter to an end.”

“Pictures of Christopher cannot be commercially exploited without a license from our client,” the estate’s attorney Staci Jennifer Trager tells Billboard.

“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.”

In recent years, rappers have questioned whether photographers should own their photos of celebrities. In 2022, Snoop Dogg said that photographers shouldn’t own their photos of celebrities after a photographer sued another rapper, Nas, for posting a copyrighted image on Instagram.

Meanwhile, last year, Jay-Z settled a lawsuit with a photographer over images that he was selling of the rapper — claiming that he made an “arrogant assumption that because he took those photographs, he can do with them as he pleases.”

Image credits: All photos via Notorious BIG vs Chi Modu complaint