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Judge erring towards dismissing Ice Cube’s lawsuit against Robinhood

By | Published on Friday 11 June 2021

Ice Cube

A judge in California seems to be erring towards dismissing Ice Cube’s legal action against the Robinhood stock-trading app. Which isn’t that surprising. It did seem like quite an ambitious legal claim on the rapper’s part.

Ice Cube, you may remember, was not impressed when the financial services firm illustrated a story on its Robinhood Snacks news website with his picture and the caption “Correct yourself before you wreck yourself”, a play on the lyric “You better check yo self before you wreck yo self” from the rapper’s 1993 track ‘Check Yo Self’.

The use of that photo and caption, Ice Cube argued, formally linked him to the Robinhood company, which had got itself all caught up in the big GameStop short squeeze story that got so much news coverage earlier this year. In his lawsuit the rapper said that he didn’t want to be associated with “an unscrupulous and predatory conglomerate that professes to be a financial services company for the everyday person [but which is] in truth … a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Given that Robinhood Snacks had properly licensed the photo of Ice Cube it used from the owner of the copyright in the image, the rapper sued on the basis that its use of the picture infringed his trademark and publicity rights. That, the judge hearing the case correctly noted in a hearing yesterday, requires the court to consider whether the use of the photo and caption in any way implied that Ice Cube was endorsing Robinhood’s products.

Robinhood argues that its Snacks site is an editorial rather than commercial operation, so its use of the photo was editorial and not commercial. Ice Cube counters that the Snacks site is just a marketing tool for the rest of the Robinhood business, so its content is promotional.

Although the litigation raises questions around both free speech and publicity rights under US law, judge Laurel Beeler said yesterday that whether or not to grant Robinhood’s motion to dismiss the case is entirely based on the implied endorsement question.

According to Law360, she said: “For me, it literally comes down to endorsement. If it is endorsement, then I think the plaintiff has a case. If it’s not an endorsement, I think it falls”.

Addressing Ice Cube’s lawyer, she added: “This doesn’t look like product [promotion]; this looks like illustration. And at least with the cases you cited me, if the only argument was endorsement, I have a tough time getting to standing, and that sort of ends the inquiry for me”.

Beeler will now give further consideration to both sides’ arguments before making a final decision.