JAY-Z’s Lawsuit Against Jonathan Mannion Could Change Photography Forever

Several weeks ago, JAY-Z celebrated 25 years since releasing his debut album, Reasonable Doubt. Amid the fanfare is a lawsuit against the photographer for the artwork of the Roc-A-Fella Records LP. Jonathan Mannion was behind the lens for the black-and-white photograph of Shawn Carter in the tailored suit, scarf, and cigar. However, Jay’s representatives are knocking the hustle that’s developed around Mannion selling images from the shoot.

Mannion’s company and website have sold shirts, turntable mats, and other items without the permission of Jay or Roc. According to Reuters, “The complaint said that Mannion violated JAY-Z’s publicity rights under California law, and that the photographer demanded Jay pay him tens of millions of dollars to stop.” A complaint stated that JAY-Z and Roc-A-Fella paid Mannion “handsomely” for the photography in 1996 but did not grant permission for other photos to be sold. “It is ironic that a photographer would treat the image of a formerly-unknown Black teenager, now wildly successful, as a piece of property to be squeezed for every dollar it can produce. It stops today.”

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Mannion’s team has alleged that he is within his rights to sell prints of his copyrighted works. He documented JAY-Z through hundreds of photographs and artists, including DMX, Aaliyah, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, and The Notorious B.I.G. JAY-Z and his wife Beyoncé have always been in control of their image. For over 20 years, Jay’s lyrics have condemned magazines for misusing his image to drive sales at the newsstand. Since then, that sentiment has intensified. Recently, Roc Nation was involved in the acquisition of Certified Collectables Group. As the space for copyrights and property is excited by NFTs (something JAY-Z is already focused on) and other newfound opportunities, the rights of photographers may be under fire, and the power may go to the person being photographed.

In this week’s episode of the What’s The Headline podcast (embedded as video and audio below), the Ambrosia For Heads team discusses the history and impact potentially surrounding this lawsuit. Other topics of the episode include the media’s false reports about Biz Markie’s passing, Tyler, The Creator’s new album, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, and a potential battle between Conway The Machine and Jim Jones.

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The timestamps are as follows:

0:00 Intro
6:34 False reports of Biz Markie’s death were published recently
9:33 The responsibility and care that comes with covering celebrity deaths
15:10 Celebrating the incredible career of Biz Markie
20:10 Remembering Blackalicious’ Gift Of Gab who passed away on June 18, 2021
25:28 JAY-Z is suing Hip-Hop photographer Jonathan Mannion who shot the Reasonable Doubt album cover
26:55 The lawsuit could forever change the law regarding who owns the copyright in celebrity photos
39:32 JAY-Z has bought part of a company valued at more than $500 million
45:46 Logic makes his return to Hip-Hop
48:10 Snoop Dogg is now a creative consultant for Def Jam
50:37 De La Soul’s Stakes Is High, Nas’ It Was Written and JAY-Z’s Reasonable Doubt turn 25 years old
52:56 Jim Jones and Conway The Machine want to have an old-fashioned Rap battle
1:00:14 New music from Evidence, Tyler, The Creator, The Roots, DJ Kay Slay, Masta Ace, and more

Ambrosia For Heads readers can catch regular discussions about the culture on our What’s The Headline podcast. Additionally, What’s The Headline has recent interviews with Evidence, Skyzoo, Pharoahe Monch, Prince Paul & Don Newkirk, Statik Selektah, Lyric Jones, The LOX, MC Eiht, Havoc, Duckwrth, photographer T. Eric Monroe, and Lord Finesse. All episodes of the show are available wherever you stream your pods.

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#BonusBeat: Ambrosia For Heads’ presents: “What If JAY-Z Had Retired After Reasonable Doubt?”: