Ross, who famously constructed his stage name from the real-life former drug dealer turned kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross, is free to use the name as per a decision from California Judge Roger Boren.
“Freeway” Ricky Ross, whose original life in prison sentence was eventually reduced following a separate appeal, was released from prison more than four years ago in 2009. Ross’ original suit against the MMG rapper was denied on the basis that the former drug dealer did not make his case soon enough after discovering the alternate use of his name. That original suit was thrown out under the legal purview of the so-called “single publication” law.
Despite an appeals court Judge granting “Freeway” Ross the right to an appeal—in effect undermining the previous ruling on the grounds of “single publication” protection—the latest ruling finds that the rapper is protected by his First Amendment rights.
The latest ruling relies on a distinction between the use of “raw materials” and the “sum and substance” of a piece of work. In essence, the decision hinges on the view that Ross’ use of the stage name accounts to the usage of a “raw material” and that he is not acting solely as an imposter.
"Roberts created a celebrity identity, using the name Rick Ross, of a cocaine kingpin turned rapper," Boren’s ruling says, referencing the MMG emcee's born name, William Leonard Roberts II. "He was not simply an imposter seeking to profit solely off the name and reputation of Rick Ross. Rather, he made music out of fictional tales of dealing drugs and other exploits—some of which related to plaintiff. Using the name and certain details of an infamous criminal's life as basic elements, he created original artistic works."
Billboard’s story reports that “Freeway” Ross’ original suit named Warner Bros. Records, Universal Music, and rapper Jay Z as defendants given those parties’ purported implication in the success of the God Forgives, I Don’t rapper.
This past fall, Ricky Ross leveraged an opinion that the Mastermind emcee is funded by police. "I believe that he’s being financed by the police union and keeps spreading bullshit to the youngsters, so they can keep filling up the penitentiaries cause he ain't selling no music,” said Ricky Ross. “They keep playing him on the radio and keep putting out all these big, expensive videos, but he ain't selling no music. So, somebody is shootin' off money. And I believe that the police union behind it."
In January of 2013, Ricky Ross spoke exclusively to HipHopDX about the drive-by shooting attempt made on the rapper using his name. "I'm not surprised that it happened given recent ongoings, when someone doesn't understand the street rules they get confused and incidents like this can take place," he said. "I'm still dealing with ongoing litigation about something as basic as using my name and identity, that should have been dealt with properly a long time ago. No ill will is wished upon anyone, but when you tell these stories about the streets you have to be careful. We covered it in more depth in the Power of the Name Rick Ross piece."