Maori Angry About Mike Tyson's Tattoo Artist Claiming To Own Maori-Inspired Design

from the ownership-society dept

Well, here's an interesting twist on the lawsuit from Victor Whitmill over the copyright on Mike Tyson's face tattoo. Many people have pointed out that the design appears to be inspired by the Maori, and it appears that Maori tattoo experts think Whitmill doesn't deserve anything at all:
Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, author of Mau Moko: The World of Maori Tattoo, described Mr Whitmill's claims of ownership as insufferable arrogance. "It is astounding that a Pakeha tattooist who inscribes an African American's flesh with what he considers to be a Maori design has the gall to claim that design as his intellectual property," she said.

"The tattooist has never consulted with Maori, has never had experience of Maori and originally and obviously stole the design that he put on Tyson.

"The tattooist has an incredible arrogance to assume he has the intellectual right to claim the design form of an indigenous culture that is not his."
That article notes that a local Parliament member said that it was a "bit rich" for Whitmill to be "moaning about the breach of copyright copied off Maori." Seems like bringing in a Maori tattoo expert would make for an interesting witness if this ever actually goes to trial...


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
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    maclizard (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 7:23am

    cant wait

    oh, please let this go to trial.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2011 @ 7:30am

    "Mr Tyson agreed at the time his tattoo was created that Mr Whitmill would own the artwork and thus, the copyright."

    Say what!?! Why would a public figure agree to such a thing?

     

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      Chosen Reject (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 9:17am

      Re:

      The public figure has no choice in the matter. From my understanding of copyright law, unless the tattooist was in an employee relationship with Tyson, he could not have transferred the copyright.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2011 @ 9:37am

        Re: Re:

        He could certainly transfer the copyright, no matter what the relationship.

        Tyson would only own the copyright *to begin with* if there were an employee/employer relationship, or if there's a written work made for hire agreement *and* the work fits into one of nine categories (which it probably doesn't).

         

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          Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2011 @ 10:01am

          Re: Re: Re:

          You're right. Chosen's statement is just more misunderstanding of the concept of work for hire. You can do "copyright assignment" outside of work for hire. If I ever get a tattoo, I will (and i'll design my own swirly shit, because frankly, this "cultural Maori design" is something kids scribble in their notebook when they're bored in class)

           

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            Chosen Reject (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 1:08pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I apologize. Over the last few days I've seen so many wrong "work for hire" claims (and have responded to a few of them) that when I saw this I immediately thought the poster was referring to work for hire stuff. You are right, there are certainly more ways to transfer copyright than through "work for hire".

             

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        Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2011 @ 9:44am

        Re: Re:

        pretty sure a tattoo is "work for hire"

         

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        Lawrence D'Oliveiro, May 26th, 2011 @ 5:26pm

        Re: The public figure has no choice in the matter.

        It is quite normal for a publisher to get the copyright assigned to them.

        And I think you’ll agree, in this case, Mike Tyson is definitely the publisher.

         

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    PrometheeFeu (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 7:30am

    And please make an example of this copyfrauder. No reason why this should go one way. All copyfraud cases should involve mindbogglingly large damages against the one who commits copyfraud. If they are a corporation, take their house, their car, sell their children into slavery and burn down their place of worship. Oh... Wait, I was thinking of the Mongolian hordes. Oh well, looks pretty similar anyways.

     

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    Mike, May 26th, 2011 @ 7:39am

    So what?

    The only relevant part of this is the claim that "[t]he tattooist... obviously stole the design that he put on Tyson."

    Influence, inspiration, etc. have no bearing on whether something copyrightable.

    Indeed, in this world, if something was in fact "stolen" it implies something to protect in the first place. More to the point, if the allegation is that the artist in fact "stole" something, I assume he is saying that it was copied -- I doubt that this person is saying that the artist "stole" the skin and transplanted it on Mike Tyson, but that would make for a much more awesome story.

    So then there is a copyright infringement claim inside a copyright infringement complain. For this claim to hold up, they are going to show both access to the original design and substantial similarity to the original design.

     

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      Designerfx (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 7:45am

      Re: So what?

      do you have any idea what you're talking about?

      GIS for maori facial tattoos

      Notice a similar style?

      Or how about Mike Tyson confirming that it's a Maori tattoo and simply not done yet.

      link (dailyfill)

      Mike was forced to do something drastic when his boxing career went down the drain and made him a “has-been.” His answer was getting a Maori warrior facial tattoo, which he claims is not even close to being finished. Our response? Awesome.

       

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      Jaedyn, Jun 28th, 2011 @ 9:32pm

      I am a Maori from New Zealand, and I find Mike Tyson guilty!

       

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    fogbugzd (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 7:45am

    All art is derivative. The only difference with the Tyson tattoo is that it was extremely derivative.

    How can Mike Tyson expand copyright law by giving a copyright? If Tyson had also agreed to the artist having ownership of the Brooklyn Bridge it would have no validity. Tyson has no more authority to give a copyright than he has to give away bridges. He could have given away personal rights but he had no authority to give copyright protection.

     

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    Darryl, May 26th, 2011 @ 8:03am

    Copyright on culture ?

    I agree and have stated before that is just a maori tatt.

    But I also recall Mike in the past stating that you should not be allowed to copyright culture !

    So which is it, is this an attempt to use culture copyright, to fight a copyright issue ?

    How do you feel about that Mike ?

     

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      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 8:17am

      Re: Copyright on culture ?

      You live by the copyright, prepare to die by the copyright.

      Mike has said this before (just not in those words). I don't see how pointing that out is in conflict with saying that culture should be free (as in speech).

       

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      Mike Tyson, May 26th, 2011 @ 9:57am

      Re: Copyright on culture ?

      "How do you feel about that Mike ?"

      I feel if you don't stop talking about me I gonna come over and f'k you up, then I gonna f'k up you mother, little sister, and then f'k your dog up even worse.

       

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    darryl, May 26th, 2011 @ 8:07am

    For the Maori its not 'just' a tattoo.

    a Non Maori wearing a Maori tattoo is a deep cultural insult to the Maori people.

     

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      martyburns (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 9:35am

      Re: For the Maori its not 'just' a tattoo.

      No, I don't think so, I know a few Maori's and plenty of whiteys with Maori inspired tattoos. In fact in NZ I would hazard a guess that that sort of tattoo is the most common, I think in this case the professor is just stating that the artists claim is ridiculous and insulting, not that he wants to claim himself or on behalf of insulted Maoris, or is even insulted by Tysons tattoo.

       

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        Chargone (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 7:24am

        Re: Re: For the Maori its not 'just' a tattoo.

        mind you, worth remembering some maori folk tried to sue lego for some stupid amount for using a maori Word... as in spelled and pronounced the same... to mean something compleatly different from what it does in maori. in fact, that was part of Why they sued. at least if i remember the incident correctly.

        'course, a few idiots with more money than sense does not an entire race describe.

         

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    Joseph Kranak (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 8:07am

    Quantify Originality?

    So, if this ever goes to court, then one question might come down to how original it is; if not original enough, then not copyrightable. But, of course, you can't quantify originality. So, it's just going to be up to the completely arbitrary opinion of a judge. One of the absurdities of copyright: creating a yardstick for something completely intangible like originality.

     

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      :Lobo Santo (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 8:26am

      Re: Quantify Originality?

      Sure you can!

      Just get everybody together and ask them if they've ever seen anything like that before. If the vast majority says "no" then it must be original.

      I call this the "mass idiot-in-a-hurry" test...

       

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    Comboman (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 8:14am

    "Pakeha Tatooist"

    For the record, "Pakeha" is a Maori word for a white New Zealander. Whether it is derogatory or not is a subject of some debate.

     

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      Appsta Designs, Sep 16th, 2011 @ 2:14am

      Re: "Pakeha Tatooist"

      Im pretty sure it actually means Foreigner. Being Maori I do reference a Pakeha to a White person automatically. But it dosent mean that when translated correctly. :)

       

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    MAC, May 26th, 2011 @ 8:58am

    Idiot...

    Send him along with Tyson to New Zealand to explain to the Maori why they used a sacred tattoo on Mike's face...
    A warrior's tattoo is a privilege among the Maori and has to be 'earned'. What did Tyson do the earn one?
    Have them explain it in a Maori village to the village elders with the real Maori warriors in attendance.
    Can you say ‘well done’ Tyson…?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2011 @ 9:50am

      Re: Idiot...

      "What did Tyson do the earn one?"

      Well, he did have a 50-6 lifetime record, with 44 wins by knockout, and was the undisputed worldwide heavyweight boxing champion.

       

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      John Doe, May 26th, 2011 @ 10:01am

      Re: Idiot...

      A warrior's tattoo is a privilege among the Maori and has to be 'earned'. What did Tyson do the earn one?

      I would say being the undisputed heavy weight champ could certainly earn him the title of a warrior. I doubt there are many Maori warriors that could go toe-to-toe with him even now.

      /joking

       

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        Pakeha, Jun 25th, 2011 @ 4:29pm

        Re: Re: Idiot...

        Tyson is old and at peace now. Theres many Maori who would hand it to Tyson. James Te Huna and his brother are UFC fighters, TOA - K1, Shane Cameron - boxing (1 fight away from fighting the champ), Kali Meehan - boxing (47-4-1) & many young gunz just to name a few..

         

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    Wes, May 26th, 2011 @ 9:53am

    If the Maori were to win in court could they demand Tyson remove his tattoo or not allow it to be seen by the public?

     

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    Mike42 (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 12:42pm

    WTF???

    Alright, here I'm calling "Bullshit" on damn near everyone (Mr Masnick included). Copyright is supposed to be the SPECIFIC EXPRESSION. Period. "Inspired by" is bogus. Medium (in this case, ink on human skin) is immaterial.
    The Warner tat is IDENTICAL to Tyson's tat. The fact that it's a Maori style means nothing. If I make a Celtic chain design, does that mean that I can't copyright that specific work? How about an Egyptian Eye of Horus? "Sorry, that design style is owned by Egypt. No copyright for you!"
    Don't forget, if the artist doesn't own the copyright, he can't make it CC. It's just public domain. Of course, that would instantly make everything public domain, because everything derives from common sources.
    I haven't written anything on this yet, because I tend to think both sides are stupid, unless the artist is suing as a form of advertisement. But it's completely hypocritical for any Techdirt regulars to say that a style is owned by a culture, and therefore any silmilar expression is copyrighted by that culture.
    You may not like copyrights or lawsuits, but keep your arguments clean.

    I think I'm going to make myself a Maori-inspired urinal cake.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2011 @ 2:28pm

      Re: WTF???

      "The Warner tat is IDENTICAL to Tyson's tat."

      Actually, I think there are some differences.

      The real question will be filtering out the similarities between the Tyson tat and preexisting tats the tattooist based it on or other common themes, and then comparing what remains with the Helms tat.

       

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        Mike42 (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 3:39pm

        Re: Re: WTF???

        See here: http://paidcontent.org/article/419-judge-shows-sympathy-for-plaintiffs-in-tyson-tattoo-case/

        A quote from the article:
        Perry also noted that “the entire tattoo in its original form was used (not in any parody form), the tattoo was not necessary to the basic plot of the movie, and that Warner Brothers used the tattoo substantially in its marketing of the movie.”

        And once again, "Themes" means nothing to the Techdirt regulars who I'm railing against. As I said above, just because I'm borrowing from another culture doesn't mean I lose the copyright on the specific thing I create. If it turns out that he appropriated the entire tat, that's a different subject.

        On a separate note, the artist's damages are laughable. He is trying for the bogus "loss of control" derived from the moral copyrights of Europe. Dude, you would put that on anyone's face for less than $5k. Take a settlement and the fame you just recieved and shut up.

         

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      Pseudonym, May 26th, 2011 @ 7:02pm

      Re: WTF???

      Aside from the factual error (the Warner tattoo is not strictly identical), I think you might be missing some of the background here.

      There is a generally acknowledged understanding that the Berne Convention can't (and admittedly doesn't seek to) cope with the complex issues raised by indigenous cultural expressions. While New Zealand is a signatory to the Berne Convention, the Maori are not, and the Treaty of Waitangi (Article 2) provides that New Zealand must guarantee full "chieftanship" over all "treasures". The Maori word taonga includes both tangible and intangible cultural artifacts.

      There have been several legal challenges in New Zealand against the inappropriate use of Maori traditional knowledge, cultural expressions and genetic resources which have resulted in changes to NZ law.

      Of course, the United States is not a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi. It is, however, a signatory to a number of treaties with Native American peoples, some of which contain similar provisions (though many of which have been broken beyond repair). Given that it is infeasable for every country to enter into a treaty with every indigenous population on the planet, some kind of global framework is needed. The WIPO is working through the issues as we speak.

      So you may be right that under current law, Mike Tyson's tattoo is copyrighted by the person who did it, but this may only be because current copyright law doesn't deal with indigenous cultural expressions correctly. It would be a manifest injustice if this case were decided incorrectly just because the WIPO is dragging its heels.

      Remember, these Maori cultural experts are not claiming ownership of Mr Tyson's tattoo (though some objected at the time). All they're saying is that the tattooist can't reasonably claim some kind of intellectual property ownership either. Indigenous culture is, generally speaking, not "owned" in the first place.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 10:20am

        Re: Re: WTF???

        "this may only be because current copyright law doesn't deal with indigenous cultural expressions correctly."

        I suspect may Techdirt regulars would think that the current protection (i.e., no legal monopoly whatsoever) is in fact the "correct" way to deal with such works. I think that's the other commenter's point. For a group that is often so hostile to copyright, IP, and similar legal protections/rights, they seem to be oddly sympathetic to the notion that a group of people can control others' use of their cultural artifacts.

         

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      darryl, May 26th, 2011 @ 8:56pm

      Re: WTF???

      I have to totally agree with you on this one..

       

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 1:10pm

    A cross, swastika, a quilting pattern, etc.

    When I first read about this, I, too, was wondering how the tattoo artist could claim copyright on a traditional design. Aren't there some designs which have been used for so long they are automatically in the public domain?

     

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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 1:16pm

      Re: A cross, swastika, a quilting pattern, etc.

      And along with that question, let me point you all to this. I've bought many of these books. They are collections of native, folk, and historic designs that anyone can use. I am assuming that there are, in fact, royalty-free designs that come from public domain sources.

      Dover Design Library

       

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      Jay (profile), May 26th, 2011 @ 1:39pm

      Re: A cross, swastika, a quilting pattern, etc.

      Yoga

      Beowulf - which is interesting to think about... If a new movie is made, is it subject to copyright and taken out of the public domain?

      I would link to Japan's tattooing tricks but... Those are a little graphic. Let's just say they have a skin museum and leave it at that.

       

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    identicon
    Junebug360, May 26th, 2011 @ 1:24pm

    NZ Maori Tribe

    Assuming the tattoo artist wins, how would a New Zealand tribe have any standing to sue in a US Court?

     

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