Cardi B Is Being Sued for Using a Man's Back Tattoo as Art on Her First Album


Mar. 16 2021, Updated 8:32 p.m. ET

Cardi B
Source: Getty Images

Fame and success are great, but they do tend to increase the number of lawsuits filed against you. That's a lesson Cardi B is now learning as she prepares to head to court for a case involving claims made against her about her first album. The album, titled "Gangsta B---h Music Vol. 1," helped launch Cardi into the realm of mainstream success, but now it's causing headaches of its own. 

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Why is Cardi B facing a tattoo lawsuit?

Cardi B is being sued by a man named Kevin Brophy Jr., who alleges that she misappropriated his likeness by using his back tattoo as part of the album artwork for "Gangsta Music." The suit claims that Cardi B used the tattoo in “a misleading, offensive, humiliating and provocatively sexual way." 

Both parties in the lawsuit have already acknowledged that Kevin's tattoo is the one featured on the album. 

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Although Kevin's tattoo is featured, the image on the album is not actually of his back. Instead, while the tattoo is his, the back is a male model's. One of Kevin's biggest objections to the use of the image appears to be the fact that the model in the image is performing cunnilingus. 

Cardi B says using the tattoo was not illegal.

In a summary judgment motion, Cardi B claimed that she had done nothing wrong, saying that the use of Kevin's back tattoo was transformative fair use. U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney rejected Cardi B's claim, which means that the case will not end in the pre-trial phase. Instead, Cardi's lawyers will have to argue this case in court. 

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As he explained in his ruling, Carney believes that Cardi's argument is not a slam dunk in this case. 

"To constitute a transformative fair use, the revised image must have significant transformative or creative elements to make it something more than mere likeness or imitation," the judge wrote. "A reasonable jury in this case could conclude that there are insufficient transformative or creative elements on the 'GBMV1' cover to constitute a transformative use of Plaintiff’s tattoo." 

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In his ruling, the judge relied in part on album designer Timm Gooden, who was ultimately responsible for placing Kevin's tattoo on the album cover. Timm testified that he had been told to find a new back tattoo for the male model and simply googled the term and pasted one he liked onto the cover. 

Cardi B's legal team argued that enough changes had been made to the image Timm used, including the removal of a neck tattoo, the repositioning of the arm, and the tilting of the image, to justify a claim of transformative fair use. 

Carney's ruling denied them that argument, saying that a jury could find that those changes were not sufficiently transformative to justify the claim. 

"Most significantly, defining elements including the tiger and snake remain virtually unchanged," the judge wrote. "Under these circumstances, a jury will have to decide the merits of Defendants’ defense." 

Whether she likes it or not, it seems Cardi is going to have to defend her case in court. 

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