SANTA ANA, Calif. — A jury sided with Cardi B on Friday in a copyright infringement case involving a man who claimed the Grammy-winning rapper misused his back tattoos for her sexually suggestive 2016 mixtape cover art.
The federal jury in Southern California ruled Kevin Michael Brophy did not prove Cardi B misappropriated his likeness. After the jury forewoman read the verdict, the rapper hugged her attorneys and appeared joyful.
Cardi B thanked the jurors, admitting she was “pretty nervous” before hearing the verdict.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose or not,” she said after leaving the courthouse. She was swarmed by several reporters, photographers and more than 40 high schoolers who chanted her name. One fan held up a sign asking if she could take him to his homecoming dance, to which she replied “Yes, I’ll see what I can do.”
“I told myself if I win, I was going to cuss Mr. Brophy out. But I don’t have it in my heart to cuss him out,” she said. In the courtroom, Cardi B had a brief, cordial conversation with Brophy and shook his hand.
Brophy filed the lawsuit a year after the rapper’s 2016 mixtape was released. He called himself a “family man with minor children” and said he was caused “ distress and humiliation ” by the artwork – which showed a tattooed man from behind with his head between the rapper’s legs inside a limousine. The man’s face cannot be seen.
“At the end of the day, I do respect you as an artist,” Brophy said to Cardi B.
Brophy’s lawyer, A. Barry Cappello, said photo-editing software was used to put the back tattoo, which has appeared in tattoo magazines, onto the male model featured on the mixtape cover.
But Cardi B, whose real name is Belcalis Almanzar, disputed the allegations during her testimony earlier in the week — and had such an intense exchange with Cappello that the trial was briefly halted by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney.
Cardi B said she felt Brophy hadn’t suffered any consequences as a result of the artwork. She said Brophy has harassed her legally for five year – and even at one point said she missed the “first step” of her youngest child because of the trial.
Cardi B delivered pointed answers to several of Cappello’s questions. The lawyer once asked her to calm down, but she sharply pushed back at his contention that she knew about the altered image.
Their heated exchange prompted the judge to send jurors out of the Santa Ana, California, courtroom and told both sides that he was considering a mistrial. After a short break, he called the arguing “unprofessional” and “not productive” but allowed questioning to resume, then placed new restrictions for both sides.
Cardi B said an artist used only a “small portion” of the tattoos without her knowledge. She had previously said the cover art – created by Timm Gooden – was transformative fair use of Brophy’s likeness.
Cappello said Gooden was paid $50 to create a design, but was told to find another tattoo after he turned in an initial draft. He said Gooden googled “back tattoos” before he found an image and pasted it on the cover.
Cardi B’s lawyer, Peter Anderson, said Brophy and the mixtape image are unrelated, noting the model did not have neck tattoos – which Brophy does.
“It’s not your client’s back,” Cardi B said about the image, which featured a Black model. Brophy is white. The rapper pointed out that she posted a photo of the “famous Canadian model” on her social media.
“It’s not him,” she continued. “To me, it doesn’t look like his back at all. The tattoo was modified, which is protected by the First Amendment.”
Cardi B said the image hasn’t hindered Brophy’s employment with a popular surf and skate apparel brand or his ability to travel the world for opportunities.
“He hasn’t gotten fired from his job,” said the rapper, who implied that the mixtape was not a lucrative one for her. “He hasn’t gotten a divorce. How has he suffered? He’s still in a surf shop at this job. Please tell me how he’s suffered.”
Last month, Cardi B pleaded guilty to a criminal case stemming from a pair of brawls at New York City strip clubs that required her to perform 15 days of community service. Earlier this year, the rapper was awarded $1.25 million in a defamation lawsuit against a celebrity news blogger who posted videos falsely stating she used cocaine, had contracted herpes and engaged in prostitution.