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Jury rules in favor of Cardi B after OC man sues for copyright infringement over obscene mixtape artwork

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SANTA ANA, California — A jury sided with Cardi B on Friday in a copyright infringement lawsuit involving a man who alleged that the Grammy-winning rapper abused his back tattoos for his sexually suggestive 2016 mixtape cover art.

A federal jury in Southern California ruled that Kevin Michael Brophy did not prove Cardi B abused her likeness. After the jury president read the verdict, the rapper hugged his lawyers and appeared cheerful.

Cardi B thanked the jurors, admitting she was “pretty nervous” before hearing the verdict.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose,” he said after leaving the courthouse. He was surrounded by several reporters, photographers, and more than 40 high school students shouting his name. A fan held up a banner asking if he could take her to the homecoming dance, and he replied, “Yeah, I’ll see what I can do.”

“I told myself I would curse Mr. Brophy if I won. But I don’t have the strength in my heart to curse him,” he said. In the courtroom, Cardi B had a short, candid conversation with Brophy and shook her hand.

Brophy filed the lawsuit a year after the rapper’s 2016 mixtape was released. He described himself as a “family man with young children” and said the artwork, which shows a tattooed man sticking his head between the rapper’s legs in a limo, caused him “distress and humiliation”. The man’s face is not visible.

“At the end of the day, I respect you as an artist,” Brophy told Cardi B.

Brophy’s attorney, A. Barry Cappello, said photo editing software was used to put the back tattoo featured in tattoo magazines on the male model featured on the mixtape cover.

However, Cardi B, whose real name is Belcalis Almanzar, contested the allegations in her statement earlier in the week and had such an intense conversation with Cappello that the case was briefly stopped by US District Judge Cormac Carney.

Cardi B said she felt Brophy wasn’t getting any results because of her artwork. He said Brophy had legally abused him for five years, and at one point even missed his youngest child’s “first step” because of the trial.

Cardi B gave sharp answers to some of Cappello’s questions. The lawyer once asked him to calm down, but the lawyer harshly rebuffed his claim that he knew about the changing image.

Their fervent exchange caused the judge to send the jurors out of the courtroom in Santa Ana, California, telling both parties that he was considering a wrongful trial. After a short hiatus, he described the debate as “unprofessional” and “unproductive”, but allowed the questioning to continue, then imposed new restrictions on both sides.

Cardi B said she only used a “small portion” of tattoos without an artist’s knowledge. She had previously said that the cover art created by Timm Gooden was a 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 submitted the first draft. He said Gooden had searched for “back tattoos” on Google before finding a picture and pasting it on the cover.

Cardi B’s attorney, Peter Anderson, pointed out that the Brophy and mixtape image is irrelevant and the model doesn’t have neck tattoos—like Brophy does.

“It’s not a customer turnaround,” Cardi B said of the image featuring a Black model. Brophy is white. The rapper pointed out that he shared a photo of the “famous Canadian model” on his social media.

“Not him,” he continued. “It doesn’t look like his back at all to me. The tattoo is a modified First Amendment protected.”

Cardi B said the image doesn’t stop Brophy from working with a popular surf and skate wear brand or traveling the world for opportunities.

“He hasn’t been fired from his job,” said the rapper, implying that the mixtape wasn’t profitable for him. “He’s not divorced. How did he suffer? Still in business at a surf shop. Please tell me how you suffered.”

Last month, Cardi B pleaded guilty to a criminal case arising from a double fight that required her to perform 15 days of community service at New York City strip clubs. Earlier this year, the rapper won $1.25 million in a defamation lawsuit against a famous news blogger who posted videos stating he used cocaine, contracted herpes, and engaged in prostitution.

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