Rapper Ricky Ross loses trademark case

As previously reported former drug dealer and prisoner LA based Ricky “Freeway” Ross brought an unorthodox trademark related legal action against Miami Rapper Rick Ross for exploiting his name and even suggested a criminal conspiracy between the record label and the rapper to profit from the use of his image.

His central claim was that his name was well known in drug dealing circles and law enforcement segments of the urban crime, rap and black community, trading as he did under the name ‘Ricky Ross’

In addition to suing for the use of his image he also claimed trademark rights in his name since acquiring celebrity status as a drug kingpin. The original complaint is reported here by the MiamiTimes, however since filing his application Ricky Ross had withdrawn some of his original claims.

A federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed the $10 million claim by the convicted drug dealer sharing the same name as rapper Ricky Ross.

The Judge reviewed the alleged trademark violations under the US trademark legislation, the Lanham Act, ruling that the plaintiff had no prospects of winning a trademark infringement claim or a claim on the grounds of unfair competition.

The Judge found that “Freeway” Ricky Ross was unable to demonstrate trademark rights to his name.

The Judge declined to address Freeway Ricky Ross’ image or publicity rights claims as they are called in the US which protect the names and likenesses of celebrities, as Ricky Ross had pursued what was a State based action in a Federal Court.

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4 Responses to Rapper Ricky Ross loses trademark case

  1. I actually feel like the court erred in its judgment; I also feel that the real Ricky Ross used the wrong argument to win this case.

    I believe that Ricky Ross became famous not as a “drug dealer” but when the Pulitzer prizewinning journalist, Gary Webb, published the amazing journalistic piece called “The Dark Alliance” on the San Jose Mercury news web site in Aug of 1996 exposing the CIA and the cocaine connection to the Nicaraguan nationals coming to America for safe harbor.

    Between that milestone article and the book that followed, the real Ricky Ross became famous, not for drug dealing, but because he was a pawn in the government’s game, and I do believe that we have some ownership of our own identity; In fact there are laws against identity theft of all over the books, the rapper used a name that he knew was already famous; I would like to see him try that with Shaquille O’Neal, I think we would be reading a very different verdict had that been the case.

  2. admin says:

    I absolutely agree with you and I am glad someone raised that point. I think if the complaint was drafted differently from that angle, that the outcome could have been different. Of course we should have control over our identities or at least I would like to think we do, and unfortunately the way the case was argued and the publicity it gave rise to has diminished the really newsworthy aspect of the case as you point out. I hope that the case doesn’t submerge this important piece of history and the lessons we learnt from it.

  3. admin says:

    Interesting question. Are we going to discriminate between the CIA and Government sponsored criminal acts and ‘contractors of the CIA’ in terms of recognising any right to publicity in the form of alleged criminal acts?

    The question is whether or not Ricky Ross has used his identity, as it came to prominence through Webb’s book, in the course of trade or commerce. Ricky Ross isn’t a fictional character and doesn’t own Ricky Ross’ identity as he forged it in his book.

    Having said that trademarks have proliferated and seem to have almost given a form of evergreen copyright on characters to trademark characters. (Rowling murdered Harry Potter by saying nobody can create any Harry Potter books)

    There are of course other ways the law seeks to protect and control one’s identity such as defamation, false light, privacy etc, however for some people there is no discrete legal action to confer to fit their situation so as to confer protection upon them.

    Madonna doesn’t have any form of trademark protection over the trademark ‘Material Girl’ she hadn’t used it as a mark in ‘trade or commerce’. She may have a copyright over the song but cannot assert trademark rights in it. Therein lies the distinction between copyright and trademark. The copyright belongs of course to the creator of each of the individual elements of the work.

  4. Pingback: Freeway Ricky Ross’ Trademark Case | Pace Legal Online Business

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