Rapper Ice Cube accuses Robinhood of trademark infringement in act of 'transparent retribution'

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 17: Rapper Ice Cube performs in concert at ACL Live on March 17, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)
AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 17: Rapper Ice Cube performs in concert at ACL Live on March 17, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage) (Rick Kern via Getty Images)

Robinhood has a new legal opponent in rapper Ice Cube, who filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing the stock trading platform of damaging his reputation by using his image to promote its products, without his consent.

“In a cynical effort to appeal to a young demographic, Robinhood has engaged celebrity endorsers such as Jay-Z, Nas, and Jared Leto to endorse its products and services,” according to the complaint, filed in federal court in California. “However, in an act of unmitigated gall and transparent retribution, Robinhood and its subsidiary have now used the image and likeness of Ice Cube – without his permission…”

According to the complaint, on March 8 Robinhood ran an ad on its Robinhood Snacks website and app using Ice Cube’s image and likeness, along with an altered version of his signature catch phrase “Check Yo Self.” The 51-year-old artist, whose legal name is O'Shea Jackson, Sr., said the ad used an altered version of the phrase originating in lyrics from his hit single by the same name. Such use, the rapper claims, created the false impression that he endorses Robinhood.


Robinhood's product communications lead Lavinia Chirico responded to the lawsuit telling Yahoo Finance, “No, we didn't use his image without permission. The image was licensed and used for non-commercial, editorial purposes in connection with a blog article.”

Making an 'example out of Ice Cube'

The trading platform ignored Ice Cube's demands that it stop using the phrase, the complaint alleges. Ice Cube says that Robinhood is using his image to retaliate against him over his association with business partner and civil rights attorney Jeff Kwatinetz, who was involved in a separate lawsuit against the trading platform over its controversial decision to limit trading of GameStop (GME) and other heavily shorted stocks.

Robinhood "specifically sought to punish and make an example out of Ice Cube," according to the complaint, which alleges violations of federal trademark law as well as California codes and common law governing rights of publicity. Robinhood’s actions, the filing states, were wrongfully intended to generate revenue by promoting and attracting customers to its website, products, and services.

This is Exhibit A from the lawsuit, an image from a Robinhood newsletter.
Exhibit A from the lawsuit, an image from the Robinhood Snacks website.

Ice Cube is asking the court for an injunction that would require Robinhood to stop using his image or likeness. In addition the rapper is asking for the court to order Robinhood to pay unspecified monetary damages, as well as punitive damages to punish the company’s executives for allegedly authorizing the ad campaign.

Robinhood has made headlines in the past few months, most recently for confidentially filing for an IPO last week.

The company, which has recently attracted millions of users, has come under increasing legal and regulatory pressure based on its role in processing then limiting trades during the Reddit-fueled meme-stock upheaval that included GameStop and AMC Entertainment (AMC).

In December, Robinhood agreed to a $65 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over claims that it misled customers about the sources of its revenue. And in February, Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev was called before Congress to testify over its role in the GameStop frenzy.

Robinhood is also named as a defendant in what Ice Cube's lawsuit says is more than 50 proposed class action lawsuits.

Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance and former litigation attorney.

Follow Alexis Keenan on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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