The estate of photographer Chi Modu, who passed away in May of 2021, is officially suing Universal Music Group (UMG) for copyright infringement over the major label’s allegedly unauthorized use of a Tupac Shakur photo.
Chi Modu’s estate just recently submitted the straightforward action to a California federal court, naming as a defendant Universal Music Group in its capacity as the owner of the uDiscover Music website.
Modu “was an award-winning photographer, well-known for his photographs of hip-hop icons including Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, L-L Cool J, and many others,” the text explains, noting also that one of these Shakur images appeared in the book The ‘90s: The Inside Stories from the Decade That Rocked.
Similarly, a Modu-owned picture of the rapper – in the U.S., shots of celebrities typically belong to the photog at hand – made its way into a uDiscover Music article about the “Dear Mama” artist’s “essential” songs. Contrasting the usage in the above-mentioned book, though, the estate of Chi Modu maintains that UMG doesn’t own or have permission to use the photo.
Moreover, Modu’s estate in February of 2022 sent the defendant a cease-and-desist letter, to which Universal Music “failed to meaningfully respond,” per the suit. Consequently, the plaintiff is seeking damages for the ostensibly unauthorized use of the image, and the picture was still live on the article in question at the time of this writing.
(However, the piece now has a publish date of June 16th, 2022, compared to September 21st, 2021, in the screenshot included with the lawsuit as an exhibit.)
This isn’t the first music industry complaint concerning the alleged infringement of an artist photo – or even the first action centering on a picture of Tupac and involving a news website owned by a major label.
To be sure, a photographer named Danny Clinch last October took legal action against Warner Music Group for allegedly infringing upon one of his Tupac images on its HipHopDX platform. The parties settled by 2021’s end, and the photo has since been replaced with a different image of Tupac.
But artists including Dua Lipa, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, and Justin Bieber have faced lawsuits for uploading pictures of themselves (captured and therefore owned by paparazzi) to social media in the past. The newest such suit against Bieber arrived before the court in April and is ongoing.
As of late, Bieber looks to have made a point of uploading to Instagram pictures snapped by his own photographer, tagging the professional in the appropriate descriptions for good measure.