Osvaldo “OJ” Jimenez, aka SLUTLUST, is the co-owner of La Petite Mort, a Lower East Side lifestyle shop that sells, among other things, vintage rap t-shirts from the ‘80s and ‘90s. On June 3rd, OJ got a weird surprise in his email inbox: a cease-and-desist from the legal team of ’90s R&B group Jodeci, a band he thought had been defunct for many years.
Part of New York hip-hop culture back when OJ was growing up was going to Canal Street and buying bootleg mixtapes and gear, so while not everything Le Petite Mort sells was officially sanctioned upon creation, it has historical context and a story that OJ will be happy to tell you if you visit his store. What was counterfeit at the time has perhaps aged into artistic license. Or so OJ thought, until he got a cease-and-desist email from Jodeci.
“The management of Jodeci are the owner of the intellectual property depicted or embodied in connection with Jodeci’s likeness (both individually and as a collective group), names (both individually and as a collective group), and logos,” the email read.
OJ’s co-owner and fiance Kara Mullins forwarded him the email with the note “LOLOLOL.” The timing of it was too perfect, as OJ had been arrested the week previous for selling a counterfeit Chanel scarf from the ‘90s (that he wasn’t passing off as authentic) to an undercover cop. Not wanting to make waves, they took the listing down without even responding to the email, but OJ still thought the email was “hilarious,” because it was a cease-and-desist letter from Jodeci, of all people, over a 20-year-old T-shirt.
The shirt features illustrations of the members of Jodeci and the rapper Raekwon. The shirt is a tribute to Jodeci’s 1995 hit “Freek’n You (Mr. Dalvin’s Freek Mix),” which featured Raekwon and Ghostface Killah (if anything, the shirt’s greatest crime is forgetting about Ghost).
OJ was kind of bummed out about getting a cease-and-desist from Jodeci, but at the same time was honored, because their music soundtracked an important time in his life:
“I lost my white girl virginity” to their album Diary of a Mad Band, OJ told ANIMAL.
“I was extremely honored, like ‘are you kidding me? The people who made the music that I popped my cherry to sent me a cease-and-desist letter?’” he said. “It’s almost like one of those ‘nigga, we made it!’ feelings. These people know who I am and they hate me!”
OJ has sold many vintage hip-hop T-shirts and never gotten a cease-and-desist before, and hasn’t heard of this happening to any other vintage boutique. He is unsure of the shirt’s provenance, but suspects that it’s an unlicensed bootleg. OJ doesn’t know if there’s a statute of limitations on selling bootleg stuff. He didn’t make the shirt, nor is the shirt in direct competition with contemporary Jodeci merch.
New York-based intellectual property attorney Cynthia Trinh told ANIMAL that Jodeci’s credibility depends on whether or not Le Petite Mort knowingly sold counterfeit merchandise.
“If the store owner sells only vintage products, chances are the shirt was purchased legally in the past and has been resold or handed down to other people/other stores,” she said. “If this is the case, then the ‘first-sale doctrine’ limits the rights of the copyright owner.” This may not be the case, however, if the shirt is in fact a bootleg.
Perhaps the most surprising thing OJ has learned from this conflict is that Jodeci is still around. They put out a new album in March and are currently touring.
“I didn’t even know they were alive! I was kinda like ‘Oh shit, you guys are still out here? And you have a current legal team using Gmail? That’s great!’”
Emails to Jodeci’s legal team’s Gmail address have not received a response. As far as OJ knows, the issue with Jodeci is resolved. In the meantime, OJ is fighting the charges he got from selling the knockoff scarf and has removed all bootleg merchandise from his store.
(Photo: Le Petite Mort)