Notorious B.I.G. Estate Sues Snowboard Maker for Using Rapper's Image

Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Biggie Smalls

The claim is based around well-known image of the artist taken by hip-hop photographer Chi Modu, who has a partnership with Yes Snowboards.

The estate of late rapper Notorious B.I.G. is suing Swiss snowboarding company Yes Snowboards for allegedly using the iconic artist's image on its products without permission.

In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on March 15 and obtained by Billboard, Notorious B.I.G. LLC (a.k.a. “BIG”) argues that the snowboards infringe on the estate's copyrights, trademarks and right of publicity, among other claims. The images in question include a well-known photograph of Biggie Smalls (née Christopher Wallace) taken in front of New York's Twin Towers in 1996, one year before he was murdered, as well as prints of the word "Biggie" itself.

"In complete disregard for BIG’s rights, and with knowledge of the infringing nature of their actions, Defendants knowingly used Wallace’s image, without permission from nor compensation to BIG," the complaint reads. "Without hesitation, Defendants usurped Wallace’s image for the sole purpose of profiting from the sale of unauthorized and infringing products, and, specifically, posters, prints and other artwork."

The boards come from the collection "Greats x Chi," a partnership with hip-hop photographer Chi Modu, who is also named as a defendant in the complaint. The series uses many of Modu's photographs (including the Twin Towers shot) as decals on the snowboards, including photos of Tupac ShakurOl' Dirty Bastard and Eazy-E along with Wallace. For now, the snowboards featuring Wallace appear to have been removed from the company's website.

It's far from the first time a brand has used the legendary rapper's image on products, but this time, BIG argues, it was done without proper licensing. BIG -- which is managed by Wallace's mother, Voletta Wallace, and his widow, R&B singer Faith Evans -- claims the company asked Yes Snowboards to stop selling the boards, also demanding compensation for the sales of those products. But, the complaint argues, "Defendants intentionally and in bad faith gained access to and intentionally sold the Infringing Products to purposely profit from the Property Rights." 

The lawsuit is seeking an injunction against Yes, along with all profits the company made off the products and unspecified damages.

"At a time where fame and popularity for musicians comes and goes on an accelerated time scale," the complaint continues, "it is hard to quantify the power -- both emotional and financial -- of a musician whose brand and persona are still appreciated, recognized, and replicated more than two decades after his death."

Representatives for Yes Snowboards did not immediately respond to requests for comment.