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Cardi B cleared in suit over use of back tattoo on raunchy album cover

The jury deliberated about 90 minutes before siding with the Grammy-winning rapper.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) — A federal jury on Friday found Cardi B’s use of a portion of an Orange County man’s back tattoo on an album cover did not constitute a misappropriation of his likeness or cast him in a false light.

The jury deliberated for about an hour and a half before reaching their verdict, following a 2 1/2-day trial in Santa Ana.

The cover of Cardi B's debut mixtape, "Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1," featured a man appearing to perform oral sex on the rapper in the back of a limousine, his head buried between her legs, only his upper back, neck and shoulders visible. His most prominent feature is a large back tattoo, consisting largely of a tiger. That tattoo, belonging to Brophy, was found on the internet by a graphic designer after a simple Google search and was then photoshopped onto the cover's design. Brophy (who typically goes by Mike) claims this act amounted to a misappropriation of his image, an illicit use of his "likeness."

In his nearly two-hour closing argument, Brophy's attorney Larry Conlan called Brophy's full-length back tattoo, which depicts a large tiger fighting a serpent, along with assorted flowers and waves, as "legendary," "iconic," completely unique, and serving almost as an avatar for Brophy himself.

"If he’s in a crowd, with his shirt off, even if people can’t see his face, they know it’s Brophy," said Conlan. "They took this iconic tattoo and they stuffed him between her legs. And they humiliated him."

Conlan argued Brophy had been further insulted by Cardi B's testimony. When she took the stand Wednesday, the recording artist was dismissive of Brophy's claims, saying indignantly, "He hasn’t suffered. He hasn’t gotten fired, he hasn’t gotten divorced. How has he suffered? Please, tell me how he has suffered?" Conlan called her testimony "disrespectful."

"She thinks she’s a celebrity, and she’s got handers that carry her bag and bring her into the courtroom, so only her feelings count," Conlan told the jury. "It was disrespectful the way she talked about Mike Brophy. It’s disdainful. For no reason."

Cardi B's lawyer, Peter Anderson, in his closing argument, described Brophy's tattoo as commonplace and far from unique. To bolster his claim, he showed the jury multiple photographs of tiger tattoos, all of which looked nearly identical, posed in the same way: vertically, from above, head turned to left. Some were even fighting off serpents, as in Brophy's tattoo.

"That is a common way of depicting tigers," Anderson said. Referring to the album cover, he said, "No one looked at that artwork and thought, 'Oh my God, Mike Brophy, what is he doing with Cardi B?!' No one thought that."

Though Brophy's tattoo had been digitally grafted onto the male model in the photo shoot, Anderson argued the tattoo had been altered to the point where the art work was "very, very different" from Brophy's tattoo. The image had been cropped, skewed and darkened. Elements of the tattoo had been nudged around.

"It’s not his likeness," Anderson said. He added that the lawsuit was nothing more than a "money grab."

The jury found in favor of Cardi B, her company and her former management company on all three claims.

Following the verdict, Cardi B hugged the jury foreperson, a former prosecutor, and told her, "I’m going to remember you for the rest of my fucking life."

She then met Brophy, who told her, "At the end of the day, I respect you as an artist." He added: "It is what it is. I was just standing up for my rights."

Afterward, she told a group of reporters, "I thought, if I win, I’m gonna curse Mr. Brophy out. But I don’t have it in my heart to curse him out. I honestly wish him the best." She thanked the judge and jury, and said, "I’m beyond grateful. I even shed a tear. For some people, it’s probably just a little lawsuit. But it means a lot to me."

Brophy's attorney Barry Cappello said he was "disappointed" with the verdict.

Conlan, his partner, said, "We came out to protect our client's privacy. We thought it was clear that they had used his likeness, and that he had been harmed. The jury thought otherwise."

Outside the federal courthouse, Cardi B and her legal team were besieged by a large group of students from the high school across the street, one of whom asked her to be his date for the homecoming dance Friday night. Cardi B said yes, but then added, "Maybe. We'll see."

The result leaves Cardi B two for two in civil trials in 2022. In January, a federal jury in Georgia awarded the rapper $4 million in her libel suit against a celebrity gossip blogger. 

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