Way back in 2010, a former backup vocalist for Cypress Hill named Michael “Shagg” Washington filed a lawsuit against Take-Two Interactive after he alleged his likeness was stolen to create the character CJ in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Washington was seeking $250 million in damages, but a judge from the Superior Court of Los Angeles County denied his appeal.
Here’s where Washington’s case fell apart. Take-Two claimed that Washington’s appearance and life story were not based on CJ’s character, but even if they were, those attributes were protected under the transformative use doctrine. The transformative use doctrine basically states that the likeness of a person can be used by a third party so long as they use that likeness in a way that is different from the source material. A court document also states that Washington could not prove that the locations CJ visits and the people he meets in GTA: San Andreas is based on Washington’s own experiences.
“Washington has introduced no evidence indicating that the fictionalized locations,characters or events in the video game are based on his own life. The only piece of admissible evidence Washington submitted to the trial court was a declaration stating that: (1) he and his nephew believe CJ looks like him; and (2) Estevan Oriol is an employee of respondents who convinced him to attend a meeting about the game. The declaration does not include any facts about his life, it does not describe any of the information that he allegedly provided to respondents and it does not identify any event in GTA: San Andreas that is purportedly based on his own experiences.”
As far as Washington’s appearance goes, the judge was quoted as saying,”Plaintiff is relying entirely on CJ’s physical appearance in the game, but that appearance is so generic that it necessarily includes hundreds of other black males.”
Read [Hollywood Reporter]