(CN) – VH1 did not have permission to use pictures of group N.W.A. in its documentary about the iconic hip hop founded by Dr. Dre with Ice Cube and others in 1986, the photographer claims in Manhattan federal court.
Howard Rosenberg, a professional photographer, is suing the owners of the TV station VH1, Viacom and Viacom International, as well as Creature Films for copyright infringement.
Rosenberg says he took pictures of the Los Angeles-based N.W.A., short for Niggaz With Attitude, just after the group released its 1988 album “Straight Outta Compton,” which is credited with introducing gangsta rap into mainstream music.
N.W.A., which disbanded in 1991, was originally made up of of six members: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, Arabian Prince and MC Ren.
Dr. Dre, one of the group’s producers, went on to become a platinum selling solo artist who pioneered the sounds of West Coast hip hop and later co-founded Death Row Records, which discovered famed rapper and songwriter Eminem.
N.W.A. songwriter Ice Cube is now a well-known writer, producer and actor, famous for his roles in “Boyz in the Hood,” “Anaconda” and the television show “Are We There Yet?”
N.W.A.’s significant impact on pop culture and the music industry has ensured an enduring legacy for all of its members.
Ice Cube and Arabian Prince left the group in 1989, and Easy-E died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1996, making Rosenberg’s photos “exceedingly rare,” “impossible to recreate,” and “considered by many to be the definitive images of the group,” according to the complaint.
In July 2008, VH1 and Creature Films contacted Rosenberg regarding the use of his pictures in a documentary that would air in October, “N.W.A.: The World’s Most Dangerous Group.”
Rosenberg claims he told VH1 and Creature Films all licensing for pictures must be done through him, as he holds the copyrights to the pictures and most of them are stored in his personal archives.
The photograph stock agency Shooting Star Agency, which syndicates Rosenberg’s images, only had a small portion of Rosenberg’s N.W.A. photos, and those were only available for licensing in magazines, according to the complaint.
After several negotiations, Rosenberg could not come to an agreement with VH1 and Creature on the cost of using his photos, with Rosenberg asking at least $450 per image, but being offered only up to $200.
On Oct. 2, the day before the documentary was set to air on VH1, after Rosenberg learned that VH1 and Creature had tried to negotiate with Shooting Star directly, he says he agreed to allow Shooting Star to authorize VH1 and Creature to use six of his photos that were in Shooting Star’s possession for $5,900, with the limitation that the images could appear only within the context of the documentary and nothing else, including promotions.
But Rosenberg says “N.W.A.: The World’s Most Dangerous Group” actually contained at least 27 of his photos when it aired, and the images appeared several times within the documentary, as well as in promotional articles, magazines reviews and promotional trailers. Internet blogs later picked up the photos, which were also posted on VH1’s Facebook and Myspace pages.
“The plaintiff’s images are core to and highlighted in the documentary, often encompassing the entire screen,” the 30-page complaint states.
Rosenberg seeks an injunction, maximum statutory damages, recovery for actual damages, and any profits the defendants gained from his photos.
He is represented by Edward Greenberg.
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