In 2011, in perhaps the first lawsuit of its kind, Victor Whitmill, a tattoo artist — most notable for creating the Maori inspired tattoo on the side of Mike Tysons’s face — sued Warner Brothers Entertainment in an attempt to stop the release of the movie “Hangover Part II” in which one of the characters was tattooed in identical manner to that of Mike Tyson. Whitmill claimed copyright infringement resulting from the film’s promotional activities showing the tattoo, demanded that release of the movie be stopped, and other costs and damages.
The judge agreed that Mr. Whitmill had “lost control over the image he created” and that Whitmill had a legitimate copyright claim in his tattoo design, Yet, the court refused to grant Mr. Whitmill’s request for a preliminary injunction ruling that “the public interest does favor protecting the thousands of other business people in the country as well as Warner Brothers” connected to the film and its promotion. The parties eventually settled. Though not the final word on the matter, the court’s decision sets the stage for similar type actions by those seeking to protect tattoo designs.
As a result of this lawsuit — and good business sense — certain media companies and sport groups, according to the Wall Street Journal, weren’t taking chances. The NFL players Association was urging athletes to obtain licenses for their body art and Electronic Arts (EA) reported that for its latest video game “Madden NFL 15”, that it scanned images of tattoos only from after getting legal authorization from the artist who drew them. Apparently, tattoo artists are more than willing to sign releases when presented to them by sports athletes.If you’d like to learn more about the legal basis for claiming copyright protection in tattoo art, don’t hesitate to call the lawyers at Lipton, Weinberger & Husick.
– Adam G. Garson, Esq.