Court denies Cypress Hill backup singer’s suit against Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas -- CJ

Michael “Shagg” Washington is an aspiring model, backup singer for popular marijuana-centric rap group Cypress Hill, and according to Washington himself, he’s the inspiration for the protagonist in Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

That was the claim Washington made in a $250 million lawsuit he leveled against the gaming company. If Washington is to be believed, Rockstar developers lifted his likeness and mannerisms for the character of Carl “CJ” Johnson, and even went so far as to question Washington about his youth as a gang member, which he says went directly toward fleshing out Johnson’s backstory.

Whether you believe Johnson or not, the California court system has officially denied his suit, saying that Washington was unable to provide substantial evidence that the character is, in fact, based on his likeness. “The only admissible evidence Washington submitted in support of his opposition was a declaration stating that he had ‘reviewed the game and [concluded that] the character known as CJ [wa]s readily identifiable as [him]self,'” writes Judge Michael Johnson of California’s appellate court in his official ruling (.pdf). 

“… the court concluded that Washington had failed to introduce evidence that established a probability of prevailing on the merits of his claims,” the ruling later states.

Keep in mind that this ruling is not necessarily the court saying that Rockstar didn’t use Washington as a model for CJ, just that the character we all saw in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was a suitably generic pastiche of early-90s Los Angeles gang culture to earn protection under the First Amendment. Washington is listed in the San Andreas credits as a model, so it’s entirely possible that his claims are true, but the burden of proof in this suit lies entirely with Washington. To wit:

… the court concluded that all of Washington’s claims arose from the production and distribution of GTA: San Andreas, which was an “expressive work entitled to First Amendment protection.” It further explained that GTA: San Andreas “concerned issues of public interest (such as gang activity, crack cocaine use, the Rampart LAPD scandal, race relations, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots), has received critical acclaim, and has garnered such success and notoriety that the game itself has become a subject of public interest.”

Unfortunately for Washington, this appellate court decision was his final chance to stick it to Rockstar Games. His suit had previously been heard in a traditional California court, which had largely the same opinion as the more recent ruling. Though he could continue seeking what he considers justice, it’s intensely unlikely that any future judges would overrule the decisions of both the first California judge to hear Washington’s case and the Appeals Court that most recently rejected his suit.

Intriguingly, the case seems to echo a similar lawsuit we reported on at the beginning of October. Pop-ska group No Doubt sued Activision over what it considered an inappropriate use of the band’s likeness in 2009’s Band Hero. Unlike Washington’s, No Doubt’s suit was actually successful. The end result was Activision opting to settle out of court, instead of facing the band in front of a judge. That’s a smart move, as unlike Washington No Doubt’s team of lawyers had a very damning portfolio of evidence to back their claims.

However you feel about this ruling, the precedent it sets is depressing. Not the part about California rejecting vague claims of likeness exploitation, but the increased frequency at which we see lawsuits aimed at gaming companies by celebrities. As developers attempt to make their titles more realistic, they’ll increasingly turn to these celebs for cameo appearances, and in our modern, litigious society it’s all too easy to land in the crosshairs of a starlet or crooner that feels they’ve been slighted.

Computing

Amazon takes $200 off Apple’s latest 13-inch MacBook Air with retina display

Amazon is taking $200 off Apple's latest MacBook Air. This MacBook Air has 13-inch retina display, a built-in FaceTime HD camera, and that classic lightweight wedge shape the Air is loved and known for.
Gaming

Want to play as Iron Man or Waluigi in GTA V? Our favorite mods make it possible

Grand Theft Auto V is best on the PC for many reasons, and modifications may be the most important. You can cause riots, spawn unique cars, and play as a cop with just a few extra files.
Mobile

Barbie’s Corvette ain’t got nothing on Sphero’s fully programmable robot car

Sphero is known for devices like the Sphero Bolt and BB-8 Star Wars toy, but now the company is back with another addition to its lineup -- the Sphero RVR. The RVR is a fully programmable robot car that can be expanding with different…
Computing

New Chrome feature aimed at preventing websites from blocking Incognito Mode

A new Chrome feature will prevent websites from blocking Chrome users as they browse using Incognito Mode. The feature is supposed to fix a known loophole that allows websites to detect and block those using Incognito Mode.
Gaming

Transform into a tetromino master with our Tetris 99 tips and tricks

Tetris 99 is the latest battle royale game to stir up quite a bit of commotion. The Nintendo Switch Online exclusive adds a few new unexplained quirks to the Tetris formula. We've got you covered with our Tetris 99 tips and tricks.
Gaming

Need to perform a factory reset on your Xbox One console? Here's how to do it

Whether you're upgrading to a One X and giving your old console to a friend, or troubleshooting a technical issue, sometimes your Xbox One needs a clean slate. Here's our quick guide on how to factory reset an Xbox One.
Computing

Metro Exodus update brings DLSS improvements to Nvidia RTX 20-series PCs

Having issues in Metro Exodus? A February 21 update for the title recently delivered enhancements to Nvidia’s deep learning supersampling feature and other fixes for low-specced PCs. 
Gaming

Battle royale-style Tetris 99 is the first Nintendo Switch Online-exclusive game

If you want to play online multiplayer on Switch, you'll need a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Here's what you need to know about Nintendo Switch Online, from price to features to the awesome library of NES games.
Gaming

The best PUBG weapons to win you that coveted chicken dinner

Which weapons in PUBG are worth the time to scout out and fit with attachments? Which are going to help you become the last player standing? We've got the answers you need in our best PUBG weapons guide.
Gaming

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in Destiny 2: Forsaken

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.
Deals

Walmart slices prices on PS4 DualShock 4 controllers just in time for Anthem

The standard black PS4 controller is what usually comes with the console itself, but if you want to add something a bit more customized your gaming experience, Walmart is offering a wide variety of colorful DualShock 4 controllers at…
Gaming

How you can give your PS4 a fresh start with a factory reset

Learn the many ways you can factory reset your PS4. From reverting your settings to factory to doing a full wipe and reinstalling the latest PlayStation firmware, we cover it all here, step by step.
Gaming

Here's everything you need to know to trade with friends in Pokémon Go

After literally years of waiting, Pokémon Go finally gives trainers the option to trade Pokémon with others. It's not easy, though, and the cost is quite high if you try trading with strangers.
Gaming

Here's what you need to know about World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is the latest expansion for the now 14-year-old MMORPG. It goes back to the roots of the Alliance vs. Horde conflict. Here's what you need to know.