Hip-Hop photographer Jonathan Mannion shot the cover for one of Jay-Z’s most iconic albums, “Reasonable Doubt,” which was released on June 25, 1996. Now, over two decades later, Mannion is being sued for those exact photos after the rapper claims the photographer profited off those images for years without ever getting his permission.
The complaint was filed on June 16 and revealed that Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, is accusing Mannion of exploiting the “4:44” rapper’s “name and image without [his] consent.”
The court documents obtained by Atlanta Black Star say that “Mannion has developed a highly profitable business by selling copies of photographs of JAY-Z on Mannion’s website and retail store, and by selling licenses to others to use JAY-Z’s image.” It continued, “Mannion has done so on the arrogant assumption that because he took those photographs, he can do with them as he pleases. But JAY-Z never gave Mannion the right to use his likeness for these or any other purposes. And without that permission, Mannion has no legal right to do so. JAY-Z has asked Mannion to stop, but he refuses to do so.”
In addition to denying the Brooklyn native’s request to stop using his image, “Mannion has now demanded that Jay-Z pay him tens of millions of dollars to put an end to Mannion’s use of Jay-Z’s likeness.” “It is ironic that a photographer would treat the image of a formerly-unknown Black teenage, now wildly successful, as a piece of property to be squeezed for every dollar it can produce. It stops today,” the suit added. (Mannion was hired by Jay-Z in 1996 when Jay-Z was 26.)
Mannion is indeed selling images of Jay-Z on his website with price ranging from $50.00 to a group shot of the rapper surrounded by children titled, “Jay-Z ‘Chess Not Checkers’” going for $1,500 for a 7.5 x 18—the largest, a 48 x 120 print is selling for $17,500.
Jay-Z is accusing his former photographer of violating California Common Law Right of Publicity as well as section 3322 of California Civil Code which states, “Any person who knowingly uses another’s name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness, in any manner, on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for purposes of advertising or selling, or soliciting purchases of, products, merchandise, goods or services, without such person’s prior consent, or, in the case of a minor, the prior consent of his parent or legal guardian, shall be liable for any damages sustained by the person or persons injured as a result thereof.”
The “Big Pimpin’” rapper is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction requiring Mannion and his agents, servants, employees, and all other persons with whom he is acting in concert to refrain from using JAY-Z’s name, likeness, identity, or persona. He also wants any “punitive and exemplary damages” allowed by the courts.
Meanwhile, Mannion’s attorney responded to news of the lawsuit, stating: “Mr. Mannion has created iconic images of Mr. Carter over the years, and is proud that these images have helped to define the artist that Jay-Z is today. Mr. Mannion has the utmost respect for Mr. Carter and his body of work and expects that Mr. Carter would similarly respect the rights of artists and creators who have helped him achieve the heights to which he has ascended.” The statement continued, “We are confident that the First Amendment protects Mr. Mannion’s right to sell fine art prints of his copyrighted works, and will review the complaint and respond in due course.”