The estate of hip-hop photographer Chi Modu is bringing a claim against Universal Music Group alleging copyright infringement over the corporation’s use of an image of late rapper Tupac Shakur on its uDiscoverMusic website.

The lawsuit, filed last month in California, describes Modu as “an award-winning photographer, well-known for his photographs of hip-hop icons including Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, L-L Cool J, and many others”.

It says that Modu “created an original photograph depicting” Tupac, the ownership of which passed to Modu’s estate after his death in 2021, and that the estate sent Universal a cease-and-desist letter regarding its usage of the photo on 9 February 2022.

The lawsuit, brought against Universal and 10 unnamed parties whom the estate says it cannot yet identify, contends that “Defendants failed to meaningfully respond” to the letter. It claims relief for copyright infringement, vicarious and/or contributory copyright infringement, and – alleging that the Defendants removed the estate’s copyright information from the photograph (misattributed the photograph) – breach of 17 US Code 1202.

The estate is seeking various remedies, including damages, an order requiring the removal of the photograph from the uDiscoverMusic website, and an award of all profits gained by the Defendants from the image.

At the time of writing, Universal has not commented on the claim.

Born in Nigeria and raised in New Jersey, Modu rose to prominence in the 1990s, becoming director of photography at The Source magazine. The photo of Shakur at the centre of his estate’s lawsuit appeared in the Rolling Stone book The ‘90s: The Inside Stories from the Decade That Rocked.

Shakur, one of the most influential rappers of all time, was shot and killed in Las Vegas in 1996.