Jay-Z’s Messy ‘Reasonable Doubt’ Lawsuit

You’ve probably seen this story on social media and you might think you’ve got a gist of it: JAY-Z’s suing the photographer behind his iconic Reasonable Doubt album cover for “exploiting his image”? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. So here’s the lowdown.

JAY-Z v Jonathan Mannion

TMZ reported that JAY was suing the iconic photographer – and his frequent collaborator – Jonathan Mannion. According to the outlet, JAY’s lawsuit was prompted by allegations that the photographer who shot his debut album cover is making exploiting the rapper’s image and likeness without consent. You most likely know the image in question. The black-and-white snapshot shows a dapper JAY-Z dressed in a coal suit, accessorised with a cream silk scarf, and tipping his hat with a cigar laced between his fingers. Jay-Z claims Mannion has raked in thousands of dollars by plastering his picture all over his website and selling the prints for tons of money. “Jay-Z never gave Mannion permission to resell any of the images,” according to the legal documents obtained by Vulture. “Nor did Jay-Z authorize Mannion to use his name, likeness, identity, or persona for any purpose.” In his complaint, the “99 Problems” rapper reveals he privately requested that Mannion cease all use of his likeness prior to pursuing litigation. However, Mannion allegedly refused, and “demanded that JAY-Z pay him tens of millions of dollars to put an end to Mannion’s use of JAY-Z’s likeness,” Rolling Stone reports.

If JAY-Z’s request for an injunction is permitted, Mannion – who has snapped classic shots of pop culture megastars like Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj, and Snoop Dogg – will have to discontinue the use of his name and image, as well as pay out “compensatory damages.” In the court paper, JAY notes: “[It’s] ironic that a photographer would treat the image of a formerly unknown Black teenager, now wildly successful, as a piece of property to be squeezed for every dollar it can produce. It stops today.” (Mannion, however, was hired by JAY-Z in 1996, when JAY-Z was 26.)

In response to the rapper’s lawsuit, Mannion’s legal representative shared a statement, invoking the US First Amendment as his defence.

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