For this one we’ll need to take a brief trip back in time to 2010. During that year, Michael “Shagg” Washington, a backup singer/dancer/model loosely connected with Cypress Hill, is introduced to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas by his nephew. Washington noticed several similarities between the life of the game’s anti-hero “CJ” and his own. Normally, something like that wouldn’t be grounds for a lawsuit; that is, if the people creating the game didn’t consult with you prior to its development. What’s a man to do but call his lawyer?
Washington claims to have only remembered consulting with Rockstar after his nephew showed him the game. Supposedly, he offered intimate details on his life and at least one photo to them for study, all of which ended up in the game without his permission or compensation. Long story short, Washington filed a lawsuit against Rockstar for an impressive $250 million in damage. My question is this: does an appearance in a successful video game that made more people aware that you exist (his name appears in the San Andreas credits under “model”) cause $250 million in damages? Oh wait, I forgot about the “Hot Coffee” mod. Never mind.
Rockstar successfully had Washington’s claim against them dismissed in 2010 by playing the “transformative use” card (“fair use …if [it] does not infringe its holder’s copyright due to the public interest in the usage” – Wikipedia). Through it, they convinced the judge that their character violated no laws outside of ones within the game. The tenacious Washington unsurprisingly appealed. This week, the case made its return to court and was thrown out again. The evidence presented failed to convince the judge that Washington and “CJ” were one in the same.