Supposed Cypress Hill backup performer Michael "Shagg" Washington sued Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive for $250 million in 2010 for allegedly basing the main character in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on him. This week, a Calif. appeals court upheld a previous ruling that—and we're paraphrasing this—they don't owe this guy shit.
It was close, though. Apparently Shagg (who claims to have been a backup performer for Cypress Hill, though the band denies and affiliation with him) met with Rockstar during the development of San Andreas and provided them with stories and photographs related to his experiences growing up in LA gangs. He's listed in the credits, and one Rockstar employee admitted to using his photos as inspiration for some of San Andreas protagonist CJ's in-game poses.
But the courts didn't buy the argument that CJ is through-and-through a virtual copy of Shagg.
"The main character CJ is a black male with a completely generic and somewhat variable appearance," said the original judge, whose verdict was upheld on appeal. "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 case relates back to another that No Doubt raised over Activision's use of the their likenesses in Band Hero. No Doubt won that case, though, and here's why:
The No Doubt avatars…perform rock songs, the same activity by which the band achieved and maintains its fame…[Nothing in the video game] transform[s] the avatars into anything other than exact depictions of No Doubt’s members doing exactly what they do as celebrities. Here, however, Washington has presented no evidence demonstrating that the plot or characters of GTA: San Andreas have any relevance to his life or his purported fame.
So there you have it. Who do you think was in the right here? Was Rockstar inspired by Shagg, and if so, should the developer's first amendment rights trump Shagg's rights to his own image and story?