by Mike Masnick
Fri, Apr 29th 2011 6:33pm
It really was just a couple of weeks ago that we asked the (we thought) hypothetical question of who owns the copyright on a tattoo, and noted it would be a good question for a law school exam. We did mention one case, but it was settled out of court. Now we may have another. Apparently the artist who designed the tattoo on Mike Tyson's face is suing Warner Bros. and seeking an injunction to block the studio from releasing the upcoming movie The Hangover 2. In that movie, Ed Helms apparently ends up with a tattoo quite similar to Tyson's (Tyson appeared in the first Hangover movie).
The tattoo artist, S. Victor Whitmill, did in fact register the design with the Copyright Office, and even got Mike Tyson to sign a release making it clear that Whitmill retained the copyright on the work. I would think that Warner Bros. has a number of potential defenses here, including parody fair use. It's certainly difficult to claim that this movie in any way diminishes the market for the original tattoo. My guess is that there may be some sort of quick settlement with Warner Bros. paying off Whitmill to make this go away, which is exactly what Whitmill wants. However, if it does go to court, we can see how good all of you were at answering that law school exam question we posited...
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