image: Vevo

image: Vevo

Nicki Minaj’s merch is landing her in hot water … legally. The superstar musician, along with Universal Music Group, has been slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit by a California-based independent artist, who alleges that Minaj and co. copied his “unique design of an inverted heart comprised of a woman’s chest and bikini” and put it on $20 t-shirts, which are available for sale worldwide on Universal’s website.

According to artist Isiah Eugene Simon’s complaint, which was filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the defendants “brazenly stole Heart Design,” for which he received a federal copyright registration in early 2015, “and affixed it to shirts that promote Minaj.”  

For the uninitiated, copyright protection extends to “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” including original prints and patterns that appear on garments and accessories. The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work and prevent others from using “substantially similar” designs without his/her authorization. 

 Simon's tee (left) & Minaj/Universal's merch (right)

Simon’s tee (left) & Minaj/Universal’s merch (right)

As a result of Minaj and Universal’s alleged copying, Simon is seeking damages to the tune of “his actual damages plus [any] profits [that Minaj and Universal Music made] from sales of the infringing shirts; or statutory damages,” which would cost $150,000 per copyright use.

Additionally, Simon has asked the court to force Minaj and Universal to immediately and permanently halt all sales of the allegedly infringing tee, which is still available for sale on Universal’s e-commerce site, and to force them to hand over “all remaining infringing shirts [that are] within their possession, custody or control.”

This is hardly the first lawsuit that has come about in connection with the surge in popularity of merch. Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s own tour-inspired merch was the subject of a couple of strongly-worded copyright infringement lawsuits, while H&M was slapped with a trademark infringement lawsuit after teaming up with Justin Bieber to launch a collection of garments for his “Purpose the Stadium Tour.”

* The case is Isiah Eugene Simon v. Onika Tanya Maraj, p/k/a Nicki Minaj, an individual; Universal Music Group, Inc., a Delaware Corporation; and Does 1-10, 2:18-cv-03671-PLA (C.D.Cal).