Monday, May 23, 2011

Mike Tyson Not First Athlete Involved In Tattoo Copyright Case

All of the drama being played out the past few weeks regarding a copyright infringement case against  the replicated Mike Tyson tribal tattoo the new film "The Hangover 2" by the tattoo artist has a couple of precedents involving sports stars and their tattoos to base the case on.

In 2005, Rasheed Wallace and Nike were sued by tattoo artist Matthew Reed for featuring Reed's ink work in a commercial.  The artist claimed the Egyptian-style tattoo on the basketball star's right shoulder was his artwork and sued the shoe company for copyright infringement.

"If you are going to make money from it [a tattoo], you should get the artist's permission," Reed claimed.

The case was later settled.

London-based tattoo artist Louis Malloy, and former friend of David Beckham, sued the soccer star for exploiting his needle work in an advertising campaign.  The artist, who inked nine of Beckham's tats, wanted a percentage the ad campaign which featured Beckham's body and his tattoos prominently.  Malloy claimed the artwork was his creation and said copyright royalties were due his way.

The Daily Mirror in London even ran a tabloid headline which quoted Malloy, "I own Beck's Tattoo...and I'll Sue." He's still suing.

Tyson isn't being held responsible by Victor Whitmill--the former Las Vegas tattoo artist who did the tribal markings on the former-boxer's face.  Whitmill has gone before a judge in St. Louis to block Warner Brothers Entertainment from releasing HO2.  It doesn't look like Whitmill's frivolous suit has much merit and he should be thankful for the free publicity he is receiving get back to labeling women with tramp stamps.

The whole episode raises a lot of copyright questions like what if somebody gets a copy of a hanging Andy Warhol painting or the Rolling Stones' iconic "lips and tongue" logo (must be a million of those out there) tattooed on their body, is it stealing or copyright infringement?  Who does own the body art?

In layman's terms, the U.S. Copyright Law: Title 17 says unless there is a written contract otherwise, the person who paid for the tattoo is the owner of said tattoo.

So expect HO2 to be in theaters this weekend and Beckham to continue his quest to cover his body with more tats than Michael Scofield (his hero), the tattooed character from the cancelled TV series "Prison Break."

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