California Intellectual Property Blog


#LeBron and #Kobe Tattoos Lead to #Copyright Lawsuit over #NBA2K16 Videogame

tattooLos Angeles – The tattoos of NBA stars such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are the focus of a copyright lawsuit filed by Solid Oak Sketches, a company that owns the copyright of those tattoos featured on the NBA 2K16 videogame. Solid Oak Sketches argues that Take-Two Software, the creator of the video game, reproduced the tattoo designs without authorization. The NBA players who have the tattoos themselves are not involved in the lawsuit.

The tattoos in focus are featured throughout the game, as well as serving a key role in advertising for the game. Solid Oak Sketches is seeking $800,000 in damages for copyright infringement and has stated it is willing to allow the continued use of the tattoos in exchange for a $1.1 million perpetual licensing fee.

A core legal question in this case could be whether tattoos at issue can even be copyrighted. Tattoo designs are often in the public domain or are derivative works. While this question has been brought up in court in previous cases, it’s never been definitively answered. The previous copyright cases ended with settlements, resulting in a lack of a definitive judicial position being taken. Solid Oak Sketches appeals to precedent from two of these past cases to support its argument.

The first is the lawsuit filed by Victor Whitmill (designer of Mike Tyson’s facial tattoo) against Warner Bros., over a similar facial tattoo on Ed Helm’s character in The Hangover: Part II. The case was settled, but the judge stated that he believed there’s no reasonable dispute against copyright of tattoos.

The second is the case filed by Christopher Escobedo (designed of the ribcage lion tattoo for UFC fighter Carlos Condit) against videogame publisher THQ over unauthorized use of the tattoo in the video game. Escobedo was awarded $22,500. Solid Oak Sketches used this amount to calculate the damage total for the eight tattoos in the NBA 2K16 game.

Solid Oak Sketches also argues that tattoos meet the copyright standards of originality and fixation, pointing out that the United States Register of Copyrights has previously issued registration for tattoo designs.

The spokesman for Take-Two Software stated that the company does not comment on lawsuits.


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