A former backup singer with 90s hip-hop overlords Cypress Hill is suing Rockstar Games, claiming the firm used his likeness for the central character Carl "CJ" Johnson in its 2004 game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, according to a court filing spotted by IGN.
Michael “Shagg” Washington, a Cypress Hill stage technician turned backup singer and model, claims in a suit filed in Los Angeles that he met with Rockstar representatives in 2003 and spent two hours answering questions on his early life.
The suit goes on to claim that at the meeting’s close Washington was told that Rockstar would be in touch if they wanted to use him in the game but Rockstar “never did call him and [Washington] assumed he had not been chosen to be any part of the project.
Six years later, after San Andreas had sold 21.5 million copies on its way to becoming the highest-selling PlayStation 2 game of all time, Washington claims his nephew brought the game – and his alleged likeness to its protagonist – to his attention.
“The Plaintiff had never seen the game,” the filing explains. “He did not own or play video games, but it seemed possible that he had been included in the game. He then recalled the meeting, and it began to dawn on him that his image had been stolen.”
Washington’s only specific claim is that he said that “the teenagers in his gang rode around on bicycles”. Players spend the early part of the game with bikes the principal mode of transport.
He is now claiming $250,000,000 in damages, 25 per cent of the $1 billion gross profit he claims Rockstar made from the game, for “failure to give him valuable credit for his performance” and “knowingly denied he had participated in the game, continuing to actively conceal his participation to this day.” That claim may yet increase, with the filing requesting “a full accounting of all profits from the game as well as for profits from all subsequent games whose popularity is either directly or partially attributable to the success of San Andreas.”
Naturally Rockstar parent company Take-Two has said it will fight the charges. It has always claimed the inspiration for San Andreas’ central protagonist CJ was rapper Christopher Bellard, known as Young Maylay, who also voiced the character.