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A retired Mohawk professional wrestler is suing singer Van Morrison over the use of his image on the cover of an upcoming album.
Billy Two Rivers, a longtime professional wrestler turned politician and activist from Kahnawake Mohawk territory near Montreal, filed the complaint Thursday in the U.S. district court against Universal Music Group and the musician.
Two Rivers contends a photograph of him is on the cover of Van Morrison’s new album, “Roll With the Punches,” scheduled for release on Sept. 22.
The black and white photograph is also part of the promotional material for the album.
New York City-based attorney Michael Graif said Friday that the photograph is being used without his client’s awareness or consent and Two Rivers is seeking unspecified damages that will be ultimately up to the court to decide.
Graif said his client was upset when a relative informed him the image, believed to be from a British wrestling promotion, was being used without his knowledge.
“He did not find out in advance and that is part of the reason for the lawsuit,” Graif said. “Because they didn’t seek his consent, but one of his relatives noticed the image appearing on the internet in connection with promotion of the album and Van Morrison’s world tour.”
Emails to the record label and the singer’s public relations manager were not immediately returned.
Two Rivers, 82, who spent nearly a quarter century in the ring, has also worked as an actor and was involved in Kahnawake politics for two decades.
“He has an international reputation as a professional wrestler back in the day and since then as a leader and an elder in the First Nations community,” Graif said. “His reputation is certainly something that is very valuable that he and he alone has the right to exploit.”
Graif says the complaint was filed in New York because it’s where the defendants are based and where the album and presales using the image are being promoted.
The lawyer says it’s very simple when it comes to use of an image.
“Everyone has the right to control the use of their image for commercial purposes,” said Graif. “The rule is you need consent to use someone’s image. You may have the right to the photo from the photographer, but that doesn’t give you the right to use the image of the people in the photo for commercial purposes.”
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