Michael “Shagg” Washington claims to be a backup singer for Cypress Hill, but the hip hop group tweeted in December 2010 that he “is in no way affiliated or associated with the band in any way.” Washington also claimed to have met in 2003 with a group of game developers to discuss details of his former street life as a gang member. According to a story published by the Hollywood Reporter on November 2, 2012, the developers were allegedly given a photo of Washington during the meeting.
In 2004, Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive released Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and Washington believed the character Carl “C.J.” Johnson featured in the game was taken from his likeness. In 2010, Washington sued for an alleged violation of publicity rights and sought $250 million in damages.
While the Reporter said that Washington’s name appeared in the game’s credits as a model, a Superior County judge found that Washington failed to demonstrate a probability of defeating the video game companies’ “transformative use” defense. That First Amendment-based defense allows copyrighted work to be used for works that serve the public’s interest.
According to the Reporter, the judge suggested that Washington “would have needed to present evidence like tattoos, birthmarks or other physical features — or linked CJ’s background to his own,” but he failed to present any evidence demonstrating that the plot or characters in the game had any relevance to his own life. “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,” the judge said, according to the Reporter.
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