A former drug dealer, Los Angeles-based Ricky "Freeway" Ross, has been threatening Miami rapper Rick Ross with a lawsuit for a while. But on Friday, June 18, Freeway's attorney, Melvin Sharpe Jr., finally filed the paperwork in Los Angeles federal district court. New Times got its grubby paws on the full complaint, and it makes for a big, informative bundle of legal wordiness.
Of course, we can begin with the premise of the whole lawsuit: that drug dealer Rick Ross is being unfairly deprived of profiting off his image, thanks to the popularity of rapper Rick Ross. In compensation, dealer Ross seeks to prevent the release of rapper Ross's upcoming new album, Teflon Don, as well as half of all of rapper Ross's gross royalties, and further damages, totaling at least $10 million.
That's not all, though. The complaint itself is a mammoth, 60-plus pages (the average trademark infringement lawsuit is, oh, six to ten). Then there is the equally long number of defendants. The list includes not only rapper Rick Ross (under his real name, William Leonard Roberts II) but also, as entities, all the labels on which rapper Ross has released music: his own Maybach Music Group, as well as Def Jam Recordings, Universal Music Group, and Slip-N-Slide Records.
Also a defendant: "Shawn Carter, an individual known as Jay-Z, individually, and as the former president of Def Jam Music." Jigga, the complaint says, should have known better than to let rapper Rick Ross infringe on dealer Ross's trademark — which, the complaint admits, nobody tried to actually register until long after rapper Ross had gotten started in music.
Then, for good measure, the suit names "Does 1 through 100." That's the plural of Doe, as in John and Jane. In other words, this is a legal maneuver to add another still-unnamed 100 people to the lawsuit later.
Meanwhile, Judge Percy Anderson has duly issued summonses to Jay-Z (under his real name, Shawn Carter), along with Maybach Music, Def Jam, and everyone else above. A summons is an order of the court issued at the beginning of a lawsuit, given to the defendants along with a copy of the complaint. The defendants have 20 days to respond. If the lawsuit isn't dismissed or settled before it reaches trial, Jay-Z and all the other codefendants (or their registered agents, in the case of the big record labels) will have to appear in court for the trial.
Below, read the top ten craziest claims made by the lawsuit complaint. (The wording in bold is our own sarcastic summarizing of the actual complaint's text, which is reproduced verbatim — strange punctuation, massive run-on sentences, and all — in the quotes afterward.) Click here to view the whole complaint.
10. Jay-Z became a successful mogul only by helping to infringe on Freeway. "Defendant Carter a/k/a/ Jay-Z signed Defendant Roberts while President of DEF JAM and at all times relevant hereto, Defendant Carter engaged in RICK ROSS business with Defendants and Roberts, and Shawn Carter gained financially from using RICK ROSS' name, and he established himself as a successful rap music industry executive as a result of his RICK ROSS activities."
9. Bringing up old rap-industry Internet gossip is important, just to clown rapper Rick Ross. "In 1995, Defendant Roberts was a college freshman at Albany State U., GA who dropped out after a year then became employed as a full-time Dade County FL Corrections Officer in 1996 for almost 2 years, a fact Roberts denied publicly, when confronted by online urban media sites about his correctional officer past, and Roberts lied about being a C.O. until proof of his employment was produced, and Roberts misrepresented publicly he had a criminal past, false and misleading representations of past facts likely to cause confusion, and deceive the public as to his affiliation with Plaintiff, who objected to Roberts' use of his name."
8. A lot of this is really the result of a conspiracy between L.A. Reid and Jay-Z to hoodwink the "Black, urban crime, rap, entertainment 'public'"! "In 2006, and all times relevant hereto, Def Jam was controlled by Chairman Antonio 'LA' Reid and then President Shawn Carter who conspired with Defendants to commercially exploit Plaintiff's name, and prior criminal image, for Roberts' benefit and use, and promoted William Roberts as 'Rick Ross,' by exploiting the name's commercial value with the Black, urban crime, rap, entertainment 'public...'"
7. Since Jay-Z has rapped on record about himself being a past drug dealer, he should have known better! "At all times relevant hereto, Defendant Shawn Carter represented that he was a drug dealer in the 1980's and 1990's before becoming a major top rap star, and he talked about his drug dealer past on TV and records, and as President of Def Jam by 2006, Carter knew or should've known about or been aware of Rick Ross and his crime story, his past reputation for being a major drug kingpin from LA, and popularity in the Black community in the 1980s and 90s..."
6. "Rap music culture" is all about "urban criminals and dealers," so, again, Rick Ross should have known better — and by the way, did we mention already that he was a corrections officer? "Defendant William Leonard Roberts, II, who trades as, did business as and performed as the ex-drug-dealing rapper named Rick Ross, fraudulently with intent to knowingly deceive the public about his true non-drug correctional and law enforcement background, and Defendants joined the scheme by bankrolling him using Roberts' false Rick Ross name and image in commerce, which name was well known in criminal, drug and law enforcement circles that Defendant Roberts either knew of, worked in, or could have learned about while in college, in the rap music culture that emulates and idolizes urban criminals and dealers, in the Black community, or from his correctional officer employment in 1996, or any time thereafter when Plaintiff was in prison, but his name was in the news."
5. Dealer Rick Ross didn't bother to register his name as a trademark, but again, hey, it should have been protected because it was widely known for its "unlawful use in commerce." "Plaintiff Rick Ross didn't register his common law or federal trademark or trade name, but Plaintiff lawfully used his name in commerce beginning in 1999, while Plaintiff was still in prison, and his name and trademark 'RICK ROSS' was first in commerce "lawfully" after 20 years of unlawful use in commerce, in 1999, as Plaintiff authorized commercial release of '100 KILOS,' a major movie."
4. Rapper Rick Ross had to steal a drug dealer's name to be seen as legitimate because, until Eminem and Kanye West, no rappers without criminal backgrounds had ever really been popular! "This false criminal image gained from using Rick Ross' name gave Roberts credibility in rap and helped sell music because in rap music prior to the success of Eminem and Kanye West, most rappers had, or claimed a criminal background that they survived, then rose to success [sic]..."
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3. Dealer Rick Ross wants to own the name associated with that "criminal background" because he now wants to use it for good, really. "Plaintiff Rick Ross had a bad and criminal identity attached to his name, but now he wants to control the usage of the name so that he can associate his name with the good and lawful purposes he intends to use it for, since he's out of prison and involved in entertainment and motivational speaking..."
2. It's not just about the money — Freeway's feelings are also hurt. "Injury to the Plaintiff's right of publicity is not just limited to present or future economic loss but includes humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional or mental distress, and Defendants caused Plaintiff humiliation and mental distress."
1. Everyone knows the defendants have the big bucks, so cough up — and nobody better release Teflon Don without getting all of this sorted out. "WHEREFORE Plaintiff demands judgment against Defendants William Roberts, Carter, DEF JAM, UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP et al. in excess of $10,000,000.00, exclusive of interest, court costs, attorneys' fees, compensatory, punitive, statutory, and treble damages... [As well as] other injunctive, equitable relief preventing Defendants from use of Plaintiff's name in Commerce... [including an] asset freeze on Defendant Roberts royalties, [and an order to] prohibit Defendants' release of 2010 music projects in RICK ROSS name..."
"Injury to the Plaintiff is not just limited to present or future economic loss but includes humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional or mental distress."