Rick Ross Stage Name Protected Under First Amendment

January 31, 2014
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William Leonard Roberts II – better known as Rick Ross – is one of the most popular hip hop artists today.

Recently, he has been in a legal battle with one of America’s most famous former drug kingpins, “Freeway” Rick Ross, over the use of his name.

Rick Ross

The rapper was sued for appropriating the name and likeness by creating a hip-hop persona. According to the Los Angeles Times, Ross was seeking $10 million in damages. However, a California appeals judge recently ruled that the rap star can legally remain “Rick Ross,” but why?

Court Ruling

One would think that using someone else’s name to profit would be against the law, however, that doesn’t appear to be the case in this situation. Judge Roger Boren ruled that the alias and image are protected speech on First Amendment grounds.

“We recognize that Roberts’ work – his music and persona as a rap musician – relies to some extent on plaintiff’s name and persona,” Judge Boren said. “Roberts chose to use the name ‘Rick Ross.’ He raps about trafficking in cocaine and brags about his wealth. These were ‘raw materials’ from which Roberts’ music career was synthesized. But these are not the ‘very sum and substance’ of Roberts’ work.”

This ruling could pave the way for future musicians to try and gain attention by using well-known aliases. However, it would probably be a good idea to consult with an entertainment attorney before choosing a popular alias, as some names could cause more legal issues than others.

Musicians have long used famous names as the title of songs – Future’s “Tony Montana” for example – and this case could pave the way for an artist to call himself Tony Montana in the future.