Tupac’s Estate Battles For Iconic Album Cover And NFT – Quartz

The work of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, long mired in complications over property rights, is embroiled in another legal entanglement. The latest revolves around a historic piece from Tupac Shakur’s album cover.

Compton, California artist Ronald “Riskie” Brent created the original Shakur’s cover The Gift Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (saved as a character “Makaveli”), which was released two months after Shakur’s death in 1996. The album’s timing and its somewhat prophetic cover, which was endorsed by Shakur and depicted him as deceased and crucified, reinforced its value as a symbol of the artist’s legacy. More than a quarter of a century later, in May 2022, this visual component of the rapper’s prolific output went at auctionas well as an associated non-fungible token (NFT).

Ronald “Riskie” Brent/Death Row Records via Zelus press release

Tupac Shakur’s 1996 album cover Makaveli aka The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory

Shakur’s estate, however, maintains that the art is the late rapper’s property. This claim was clarified in a letter sent in May by Amaru Entertainment, the company founded by Shakur’s mother to manage her late son’s work, to Heritage Auctions, one of the organizers of the auction.

Since then, both parties have engaged in a wave of legal filings aimed at determining who owns the art in question.

The dispute over Tupac’s most famous illustration is just beginning

“Amaru, as successor in interest to Death Row Records (DRR), owns all of Tupac’s DRR releases and recordings, including…all artwork created in connection with such releases and recordings,” reads the statement. letter sent by the lawyers. on behalf of Shakur’s estate.

Despite this, the auction moved forward.

On June 13, five days before the auction deadline, attorneys for Brent and distribution company NFT Zelus filed court documents indicating that the artwork had in fact previously been sold to a private owner and then purchased by Zelus in October 2021 for an undisclosed sum.

In response, attorneys for Shakur’s estate made their own legal claim to the work. “The painting was created by a DRR employee (Brent) as part of his regular duties at DRR,” they said in a June 15 filing, citing the work-for-hire doctrine under United States copyright law. “Therefore, the painting belonged to DRR and now belongs to Amaru. … [Zelus and Heritage Auctions] have no right, title or interest in the painting.

Heritage auction site However states that the artwork, along with its associated NFT, was sold to a winning bidder on June 18 for $212,500.

Shakur’s complicated estate

Legal issues hampered Shakur’s succession from the start. Before his death, his mother, Afeni Shakur, fought to retain ownership of his many unreleased pieces of music. And now Shakur’s sister, Sekyiwa Shakur, continues the executor of Afeni’s estate out of the profits from Tupac’s works.

Death Row Records, now under management by Snoop Dogghas meanwhile gone through several ownership changes over the years, which has complicated the management of Shakur’s vast catalog of works.

None of the parties mentioned in the Makaveli art dispute answered Quartz’s questions about the case. In court documents, attorneys for Shakur’s estate say the purpose of their lawsuit “is to recover the painting so that it may be returned to its rightful owner and may be cared for and preserved as part of the inheritance. of Shakur”.

It will be up to the courts to decide. Meanwhile, the amount the art was auctioned off for could end up being far less than the attorney’s fees and final court judgment that will settle the matter.

About Elizabeth J. Swartz

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