The Legal Beat: Cardi Wins Trial Over ‘Raunchy’ Cover — Plus Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus and More

This is The Legal Beat, a weekly newsletter about music law from Billboard Pro, offering you a one-stop cheat sheet of big new cases, important rulings, and all the fun stuff in between. This week: Cardi B avoids millions in damages by winning her trial over a sexually-explicit album cover, Jay-Z files a lawsuit to escape his Cognac partnership with Bacardi, Miley Cyrus quickly settles a case over an Instagram photo of herself, and much more.

THE BIG STORY: Cardi B Wins Trial Over ‘Raunchy’ Album Cover

It was all over pretty quick.

After nearly five years of litigation, it took just four days of trial and 90 minutes of deliberation for a jury to clear Cardi B of wrongdoing in a lawsuit filed by Kevin Brophy, a California dad whose back tattoos were unwittingly photoshopped onto a “raunchy” Cardi album cover.

Brophy sued in 2017 for millions in damages, claiming he was “devastated, humiliated and embarrassed” by the cover of her 2016 mixtape Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1. The image featured Cardi staring directly into the camera with her legs spread wide, holding a man’s head while he appears to perform oral sex on her.

Here was the problem: While the actual man in the image was a model who had consented to the shoot, a giant tattoo on his back belonged to Brophy. Unbeknownst to Cardi, a freelance graphic designer had typed “back tattoos” into Google Image, found one that fit (Brophy’s), and photoshopped it onto the model’s body. It apparently didn’t occur to him that he would need anyone’s approval to do so.

When the trial kicked off last week, Brophy testified that the image had been a “complete slap in the face” and had caused him “hurt and shame.” Then on Wednesday, Cardi herself took the stand — repeatedly sparring with Brophy’s attorney (A. Barry Cappello of Cappello & Noel LLP), demanding “receipts” to support the allegations, and accusing him and his lawyers of “harassing” her in hopes of scoring a settlement.

In the end, jurors were clearly swayed by the arguments from Cardi’s lawyers (Peter Anderson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and Lisa F. Moore of Moore Pequignot LLC). Among other defenses they raised, their primary argument was pretty simple: That nobody would have recognized a relatively unknown man based merely on his back tattoo, and that he had little proof anyone did.

After the verdict, Cardi took to Twitter to celebrate her legal victory: “I just won this lawsuit …Im soo emotional right now,” the superstar wrote. “I wanna kiss Gods feet right now …..IM BEYOND GRATEFUL!!!!”

Other top stories this week…

HOV WANTS OUT OF BOOZE BIZ — Jay-Z filed a lawsuit seeking to end his involvement with D’Usse Cognac, a brand he currently co-owns with spirits giant Bacardi. The rap mogul’s lawyers claimed that Bacardi is legally required to buy out his half of the business, but that the company is “lowballing” and “stonewalling” him to get a cheaper price. The lawsuit said Jay-Z’s move to exit D’Usse came amid “growing concern” about how Bacardi was running the company, including supply chain failures and an unwillingness to change prices.

HEDLEY SINGER SENTENCED FOR SEX ASSAULT — Singer Jacob Hoggard, the former frontman for multi-platinum pop-rock band Hedley, was sentenced in Canada to five years in prison for the sexual assault of an Ottawa woman. The sentence came after a June verdict that found Hoggard guilty of sexual assault causing bodily harm of a woman known only as “JB” during a 2016 incident in an Ontario hotel room. Hoggard could have received as much as 14 years, but prosecutors sought only six to seven years. His defense attorneys asked for three to four years.

ONE ASTROWORLD VICTIM SETTLES CASE — Attorneys for the family of Axel Acosta, a 21-year-old man who died at the last year’s Astroworld music festival in Houston, announced they had reached an agreement to resolve their legal case against Live Nation and Travis Scott, one of the first known settlements in the sprawling litigation over the disaster. But sources close to Scott quickly said he had not been involved in settlement talks, and no formal notice was filed on the court’s docket, leading to uncertainty about what had actually happened. Even if a deal is struck by Acosta’s family, thousands of other alleged victims are still seeking billions of dollars in damages from Live Nation, Scott and others, claiming they were legally negligent in how they planned and conducted the event.

CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST LIL DURK — Prosecutors in Georgia told a judge that they would no longer pursue criminal charges against the Chicago rapper (real name Durk Derrick Banks) over a 2019 shooting in downtown Atlanta, citing  “prosecutorial discretion.” Along with the late rapper King Von, Durk was arrested way back in May 2019 on accusations that he was involved in gunfire near the popular Atlanta restaurant The Varsity, which left a victim with a non-fatal gunshot wound to the thigh. More than three years later, prosecutors insisted “probable cause existed for the defendant’s arrest” but that “the decision of the District Attorney at this time is not to prosecute.”

MILEY CYRUS ENDS INSTAGRAM CASE — Just a month after it was filed, Miley Cyrus settled a copyright lawsuit that accused the star of violating copyright law by posting a paparazzi photo of herself to Instagram. Such allegations are a bizarrely common legal problem for celebrities, and over the past few years Dua Lipa, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Emily Ratajkowski, LeBron James, Katy Perry and others have all faced similar cases. Like Miley’s case, most of the lawsuits quickly settle. That’s because it’s actually a pretty cut-and-dried legal issue: Photographers own the copyrights to the images that they take, and using those photos without a license constitutes infringement. Unfair as it might seem, appearing in an image does not give a celebrity co-ownership of it, nor does it give them a right to repost it for free.

MUSIC HACKER GETS TWO YEARS IN PRISON — A British computer hacker who stole unreleased songs from Ed Sheeran and Lil Uzi Vert was sentenced in the UK to 18 months in prison. Prosecutors said Adrian Kwiatkowski, 23, hacked the artists’ cloud-based accounts and sold their songs on the dark web in exchange for $147,000 in cryptocurrency. The case was actually sparked by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which linked the crime to Kwiatkowski and then handed the case off to British authorities.

Bill Donahue