Cease and Desist; The Estate of Notorious B.I.G. Threatens Kendall and Kylie Jenner with T-Shirt Lawsuit

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Screen Shot - Image via Volletta Wallace's Instagram (@volettawallace)

Notorious B.I.G.’s mother, Voletta Wallace wasted no time calling out the Jenner sisters for illegally using an image of her son on their t-shirts.

Julian K. Petty, the estate’s attorney, sent the Jenner sisters a cease and desist letter with a deadline of 5 PM Friday to stop distributing the shirts … If not they will face a lawsuit.

“I am not sure who told Kylie Jenner and Kendall Jenner that they had the right to do this. The disrespect of these girls to not even reach out to me or anyone connected to the estate baffles me,” Voletta said.

“I have no idea why they feel they can exploit the deaths of 2pac and my Son Christopher to sell a t-shirt. This is disrespectful, disgusting, and exploitation at its worst!!!” She added.

In most states, a plaintiff can be sued for using someone else’s name, likeness, or other personal attributes without permission for an exploitative purpose. Usually, individuals run into trouble in this area when they use someone’s name or photograph in a commercial setting, such as the above t-shirts.

There are two distinct legal claims that potentially apply to these kinds of unauthorized uses: (1) invasion of privacy through misappropriation of name or likeness (“misappropriation”); and (2) violation of the right of publicity. (The “right of publicity” is the right of a person to control and make money from the commercial use of his or her identity.)

In some states, celebrities cannot sue for misappropriation of name and likeness (on the theory that they have no privacy interest to protect), and non-celebrities may not sue for violation of the right of publicity (on the theory that their personalities have no commercial value). The growing trend, however, is to permit both celebrities and non-celebrities to sue for both misappropriation and violation of the right of publicity, as long as they can establish the relevant kind of harm.

Surprisingly, in some states one cannot invade the privacy of a dead person, therefore that person generally cannot be sued for misappropriation of the name or likeness of a dead person, unless the misappropriation took place before the person in question died. However, in many states (including California where suit here would be brought) the right of publicity survives after death, so an individual could be sued for violating the publicity rights of a dead person. This is most likely to come up with dead celebrities, such as the case of Notorious B.i.G.

The First Amendment and the laws of many states also protect an individual’s use of someone’s name or likeness in creative works and other forms of entertainment. Included in this category are things like novels that include mention of real-life figures, historical fiction, movies based loosely on real-life events, “docudramas,” works of art that incorporate an individual’s photo or image, and acts of parody directed at an individual. Some state statutes explicitly exempt these kinds of work from liability for misappropriation or violation of the right of publicity. Therefore, the Jenner sisters may be able to use this legal theory in defending any potential lawsuits.

Both Jenners posted a statement about the use of Notorious B.I.G.’s image.

 

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