Tattoo Artist Inks Up Customer

S. Victor Whitmill is the artist who created the infamous Mike Tyson face tattoo, and sued Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. for copyright infringement.1 In the movie “The Hangover 2,” this tattoo is replicated on actor Ed Helms.2 Tyson’s tattoo is a re-creation of Whitmill’s and a design he wants to protect through copyright laws.3 The parties settled before disputing this issue in court, providing no precedent for related suits in the futures.4

A similar issue is pending in New York federal court regarding NBA athletes.5 This includes players such as Lebron James, Kobe Bryant DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and Kenyon Martin.6 Players are digitally replicated for the video game, “NBA 2K16,” and the players’ tattoos represented.7

The artist, Solid Oak Sketches, who own the copyright of many of the players’ tattoo designs are suing for copyright infringement.8 The game developer, Take-Two, was offered a license to the tattoos for $1.1 million in lieu of a lawsuit.9

In 2014, the NFL required players to obtain signed waivers from the artists, before the players appeared in the video game “Madden.”10 Similarly, the video game “UFC Undisputed” resulted in a copyright infringement award of $22,500.11

Celebrities, athletes and other public figures are much more likely to become the object of copyright disputes by the artists who tattoo them. These famous or sought out artists have more at stake with infringement of their creations by those in the public eye.12

Most cases have settled and until courts reach decisions, the legal community lacks a standard best applicable to this non-traditional medium of creation.

  1. Remy Melina, Can Mike Tyson’s Face Tattoo Be Copyrighted?, LifeScience (Mar. 27, 2011),
  2. Id.
  3. Id.
  4. Shontavia Johnson, Who Owns Your Tattoo? Maybe Not You, US News & World Rep. (Aug. 8, 2016),
  5. Id.
  6. Paul Tassi, ‘NBA 2K16’ Studio Sued Over LeBron James and Kobe Bryant’s Copyrighted Tattoos, Forbes (Feb. 2, 2016),
  7. Id.
  8. Id.
  9. Darren Rovel, Makers of NBA2K Sued for Using Players’ Tattoos Without Permission, ESPN (Feb. 1, 2016),
  10. Id.
  11. Id.
  12. Johnson, supra note 4.