Back in 2020, 50 Cent posed for a photo with Angela Kogan, a self-described “celebrity aesthetician” who owns a plastic surgery center and med spa in Miami. Years later, that seemingly innocuous picture is at the center of a bizarre dispute involving an eggplant emoji, The Shade Room, and a rumor that 50 Cent had a penile enhancement procedure—an allegation he’s now going to court to refute.
According to a lawsuit 50 Cent filed against Kogan on Friday, this all got started during a trip he took to Miami, when he “happened to be in the proximity of [Kogan’s] MedSpa.” She asked him to take a photo with her in her office, and he agreed, assuming that she was just a fan who wanted the picture “exclusively for her own private enjoyment.” Then Kogan and her company, Perfection Plastic Surgery and Medical Spa, posted the photo on their Instagram accounts—which, collectively, have 425,000 followers—along with a caption thanking 50 Cent for “stopping by the number one med spa” in Miami. 50 Cent claims that in doing so, Kogan implied that he had gotten work done there, when, in reality, that never happened.
About two years later, The Shade Room published an article about the rising popularity of penile enhancement procedures. The only person quoted was Kogan, who, The Shade Room noted, “has an extensive clientele of celebrities, including Teyana Taylor, 50 Cent, Odell Beckham, and more.” For a lead image, The Shade Room used the photo Kogan had taken with 50 Cent, split side-by-side with a photo of someone undergoing a penile enhancement procedure, obscured by an eggplant emoji.
“The implication,” 50 Cent’s lawsuit states, “was clear”: He had gotten his penis enlarged at Kogan’s med spa. He’s suing her for misappropriating his image without consent and false advertising, among other claims.
But according to Kogan, 50 Cent has it all wrong. 50 Cent “received services” at the med spa, her attorney wrote in a statement—just not of the penile variety. Instead of charging 50 Cent for whatever work he had done, they said Kogan asked if she could post a photo of the two of them on her and her company’s socials, and 50 Cent agreed. Kogan never said, or even insinuated, that 50 Cent had undergone a penile enhancement procedure; that was all The Shade Room’s doing. According to her lawyer, Kogan never even gave The Shade Room permission to publish that photo of her and 50 Cent.
“Instead of filing claims against the author who wrote the article and/or the website that published it, [50 Cent] has decided to smear Ms. Kogan’s name and the name of her business without cause,” Kogan’s lawyer, Darren Heitner, said in a statement.
The whole dispute is, not unlike a penile enhancement procedure, kind of a mess. For more clarity on the lawsuit, VICE called up entertainment attorney Barry Chase, the founding partner at the Miami-based firm Chase Lawyers and an expert on the right of publicity, the main legal issue in 50 Cent’s case. Chase read over the lawsuit and weighed in on the biggest legal questions it raises.
VICE: What did you make of the civil complaint 50 Cent filed against Kogan?
Barry Chase: First of all, you have to understand the complaint is purely one-sided. So you can’t take it at face value. But you can sort of spot, as a lawyer, what the weak points are. [50 Cent’s lawyers] are very vague about, well, why was he in her office? Did they meet on the street? The photo is not taken on the street at 166th and Collins. It’s not as if she’s in the role of a fan; she’s in the role of a business person. She’s even in her business clothing. So the question arises, wasn’t he aware of the surroundings when he stood there and, presumably, someone from her staff took that photo? It’s very fuzzy about where they met, how they met, and why they ended up in her facility. He didn’t just wander into the med spa. You have to worry about things that are left vague because they usually are not in favor of the party who’s describing something.
If 50 Cent’s side of this story is true, how strong of a case does he have?
If it’s all true as alleged, he’s got a good case. What’s raised here are what are called personality rights, or rights of publicity. You can’t use my face in an ad without getting my permission to do so. And in all likelihood, I’m not going to give you permission to do so unless you compensate me one way or another. He alleges that at no time did he suggest to her that she could use [the photo] for anything but private, personal use. You can’t just use someone’s face for your gain without getting their consent.
Kogan’s lawyer put out a statement claiming that 50 Cent received services from Kogan, and in exchange, he agreed to let her post a photo of the two of them on her socials and her company’s socials. If Kogan’s side of the story is true, how would that complicate things here?
My guess is that he didn’t just bump into her. And that opens the door to the argument that there was a deal here. Maybe it was just a barter arrangement, as the statement suggests: “You’ll do this work, and in return for that, rather than write you a big check, I’m going to take a picture with you that you can use to make a lot more money back than you would make on my surgery.” That deal can be struck orally. There’s a general misunderstanding that a contract means something on paper. But it doesn’t have to.
Now you’re going to have a “he said, she said” situation. The evidence here will be testimonial if there aren’t any documents, and we don’t have any reason to believe there are. There may be a whole range of testimony on this. The person who took the photo may have overheard them. And she testifies, “Yeah, I overheard 50 Cent say, ‘Use this any way you like, because I really appreciate the service that I didn’t have to pay for.’” Now, there’s a credibility question with that person. That person is presumably employed by Angela Kogan. Do you believe that person? I don’t know. But were there other people around? Who was there, and what did they overhear?
What do you make of the fact that there’s no evidence Kogan explicitly said, “I gave 50 Cent a penile enhancement procedure?” The complaint notes that this was all insinuation, and that it came from a now-deleted article from The Shade Room and the photo they published of 50 Cent.
That connection may have been made by the author of the Shade Room article, not by her, and that may bring [The Shade Room] in. [50 Cent’s lawyers] may be calling the Shade Room reporter. And they may even try to subpoena the transcript, if there is one, of the interview with Kogan. The reporter could testify that Kogan said certain things that belied some of what she was claiming, making it more of a misrepresentation.
Why isn’t 50 Cent suing The Shade Room? They’re not a named defendant in the case.
Well, suing journalists is harder because you have First Amendment protection. If you publish something about someone like 50 Cent either knowing that it’s not true, or with reckless disregard of whether it’s true or not, then your First Amendment protection can evaporate. But I don’t think this would qualify because they were going to a third-party source. So: It’s harder to sue journalists. But also, importantly, [50 Cent’s lawyers] can add parties later. So just because they haven’t sued the Shade Room right now doesn’t mean they won’t.
According to 50 Cent’s attorneys, the post at the center of this suit was, secretly, unlabeled sponsored content. They claim that this post was “a promotional exercise engineered by Kogan’s talent agent and former patient,” who “introduced Kogan to representatives of TSR for the purpose of promoting Defendants’ business.” How might that affect this case?
That lays the responsibility back on Kogan. It gets you out of the whole swamp of dealing with a journalist’s expression. If it in fact is just an ad, a promotional piece for her, then it’s back on her.
The Shade Room deleted the article at the center of this lawsuit. Why do you think they might have done that, and what might that signify?
Well, they may have received a cease and desist letter from 50 Cent’s lawyers. And The Shade Room’s lawyers may have said, “Look, we not only can’t afford to lose this case to 50 Cent, we can’t afford to litigate against him. So scrap this article. Delete it.”
If 50 Cent were to win this case, how much money might be on the line?
The measure will be how much enrichment Kogan got out of this. You would have to do a forensic analysis of [her company’s] revenues just prior to the first use of this [photo], and their revenues succeeding their first use of this. And then there will be a decision by the trier of fact as to how much of that was attributable to her claimed association with 50 Cent. It could be quite substantial.
Then there’s reputational harm. There will have to be testimony about what [50 Cent] has lost as an artist. For that you look at what his monthly revenues were from his various enterprises prior to the publication of the penile enhancement claim, and then after. These are difficult things to quantify. That’s why [50 Cent’s attorneys] don’t. All they say is that [the damages are] above the jurisdictional limit, which is $75,000. And it would be almost surely above that. So assuming it all goes well for 50 Cent, it’s going to be at least six figures.
Just based on the information you have right now, who do you think might come out on top here?
Right now, my guess is there was a statement, whether it be provable or not, to the effect that she could use this. Because she did for over two years, and he never said boo. Maybe there were communications between him and her during this period, when he might have said, “Hey, what are you doing with that photo? I thought it was just for you.” But in the absence of any of that, my guess is that he probably told her that he was happy to do this.
[The case] may be settled. You know, she says, “I’ll never mention you in connection with penile enhancements again, I’ll deny that you had one publicly and you can put that out, but dismiss the case, and we’ll settle.” That happens all the time.
Drew Schwartz is a senior staff writer at VICE. Follow him on Twitter.