A California man suing Cardi B for using his distinct tattoo on the cover of her mixtape “Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1” told a jury Tuesday he’s disturbed that something he takes great pride in has been plastered on something that “goes against everything I stand for.”
“It felt like my Michelangelo was stolen off a wall and literally ripped off, robbed, and put where ever these people wanted to put it,” Kevin Michael “Mike” Brophy testified.
A married father of two and lifelong surfer, Brophy lives in Costa Mesa and works as a marketing manager for a surfing lifestyle company. He told the jury of four men and four women on Tuesday that he worries his young son and daughter will eventually see the cover or that their friends will show it to them.
“This was a long journey to get this tattoo. It took a lot of commitment,” Brophy said. “To see it in this light was a complete slap in the face and a complete disrespect to me and my family.”
Brophy said he’d never heard of the rapper, whose legal name is Belcalis Almanzar, until friends told him they’d seen the intricate tattoo that covers his back on the cover of her 2016 mixtape “Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1.” The cover features a man with a tattoo that appears to be Brophy’s, including the same tiger and serpent, appearing to perform oral sex on Cardi as she drinks a bottle of Corona beer. Brophy described the scene as “raunchy” and “disgusting.”
But the judge emphasized the image here is really kinda tame.
“This isn’t even adult pornography,” Carney said.
From the complaint: “The cover of Gangsta Bitch is designed to attract consumers to the Cardi B edgy persona…” pic.twitter.com/x7McnJKQ9E
— Meghann Cuniff (@meghanncuniff) October 18, 2022
Here is Kevin Brophy’s back tattoo, which is at the heart of his likeness misappropriation claim. pic.twitter.com/thuiAfHZkr
— Meghann Cuniff (@meghanncuniff) October 18, 2022
“It looks like I’m giving oral sex to someone who’s not my wife, someone who’s not my partner. An image that I never, ever signed off on — ever,” Brophy testified.
Brophy will continue testifying Wednesday in U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney’s courtroom in Santa Ana, California, for the second day of the expected four-day trial in a 2017 lawsuit that accuses Cardi and her companies KSR Group, LLC, and Washpoppin Inc., of misappropriating Brophy’s likeness. The judge ruled Tuesday morning that Cardi can be called Cardi in court instead of her legal name, after Brophy’s lawyer argued she should be called by her real name.
“I’ll refer to her as Cardi,” the judge said.
Cardi is represented by a team from Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Los Angeles as well as her personal attorney, Lisa Moore of Moore Pequignot LLC in Atlanta. Her lead lawyer is Peter Anderson, who’s also defending singer Taylor Swift in a lawsuit over her song “Shake it Off.” He told jurors on Tuesday that Cardi “is a loving mother with two children.”
“She is a devoted wife, daughter and sister in a very, very tight-knit family,” Anderson said. She’s also a “person of strong faith,” Anderson said, and she had nothing to do with the art selected for the mixtape cover, nor does she currently control the mixtape or its distribution. Cardi created a fictionalized representation “reversing the normal stereotypical roles of a woman being subservient to a man.”
Tim Gooden, a graphic artist in New York, designed cover using “a portion of a photograph posted either by Mr. Brophy or Mr. Brophy’s tattooist” that included the distinctive tiger. Anderson called it “one little piece” and said Gooden altered it. The Black man pictured on the cover with Cardi also is clearly not Brophy, Anderson said.
“That’s a Black man with hair and this is a white man with shaven head,” Anderson said. “That’s a black man who has no neck tattoos, no head tattoo, but Mr. Brophy has head and neck tattoos.”
Brophy’s lawyer, Barry Cappello, began his opening statement by telling jurors, “They wouldn’t stop it. It’s been five years, and they’ve continued for five years. And they won’t stop it.” Cappello’s law firm notified Cardi’s people that they wanted Brophy’s tattoo removed from the cover, but she’s refused.
Cappello said very few people “who have never given permission would ever want someone to take their image and put it between someone else’s legs.”
In direct-examination from Cappello’s law partner Larry Conlan, Brophy said the lawsuit was his last resort.
“To have to come to a court of law to get this taken down? It’s crazy,” Brophy said.
Jurors will hear from the tattoo artist, Timothy Hendricks of Classic Tattoo in Fullerton, California, who Cappello said put 50 to 60 hours inking the tattoo onto Brophy’s back.
“Everybody who knows Mike Brophy, interestingly, knows Mike Brophy from the front, and knows Mike Brophy from the back,” Cappello said. “That’s how distinct this tattoo is.”
Brophy called it “a complete custom job.”
It’s not just the tattoo that’s at issue. To establish damages for likeness misappropriation, Cappello and Conlan are trying to connect Cardi’s success to the mixtape and its use of Brophy’s tattoo. And they emphasize it’s not just Brophy’s tattoo on the cover, it’s his entire backside.
“You literally carve the back of Mike Brophy and photoshop it onto this model’s back. That back that you’re looking at is Mike Brophy’s back,” Cappello said.
Cappello described Cardi’s huge success, including multiple Grammys, and said she’s “probably more famous than any other rapper, male or female.”
But the lawsuit, Cappello said, is simple: “This wasn’t hers to take . . . . This was his likeness. It’s the personal property, it’s the personal identity of a private citizen.”
In his opening, Anderson disputed any notion that Brophy can take any credit for Cardi’s success.
“Mr. Brophy is not responsible for Cardi B’s career,” Anderson said. “She was very popular before the mixtape came out. The music may have helped, but there’s no evidence that because of the little bit of a tiger on a mixtape cover, that that’s what propelled her to a celebrity.”
He referenced her joining the cast of the VH1 series “Love & Hip Hop: New York in 2015” and amassing millions of followers before the mixtape was released.
Anderson also said Brophy and his wife have not identified anyone who believes Brophy is the guy on Cardi’s mixtape cover. But once the lawsuit was filed in 2017, the celebrity news website TMZ picked it up, and random people started commenting.
“That’s a self-inflicted wound,” Anderson said. “He caused that by identifying himself.”
Anderson also disputed Brophy’s family man persona by telling jurors Brophy used to be in a band called “The Pricks.”
He displayed for jurors a photo of Brophy flipping off the camera while performing.
“Let’s say saluting all the members of the audience,” Anderson told the jury. “This is a man who plaintiffs will argue or try to show is just so devastated by his reputation being damaged.”
Anderson said the case is about people getting sued when they shouldn’t be, but also “the right of artists” such as Gooden “to take snippets off the Internet to make something new.”
Testimony continues Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. local time in Santa Ana.
Read Brophy’s 2017 complaint against Cardi here.
Follow reporter Meghann Cuniff on Twitter for live updates from the courtroom.
Note: This article was updated to correct the fact that Brophy lives in Costa Mesa, not Huntington Beach.
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