About a year and a half ago, we wrote what we thought was just a fun theoretical
post about copyrights in tattoos
. The general point was that if a tattoo artist creates a new and unique design, then, technically, they're the one who gets the copyright. And that can lead to some awkward legal issues. Of course, it barely took three weeks before that "theoretical" question became real, when a tattoo artist who had done Mike Tyson's famous tattoo sued
Warner Bros. because the character Ed Helms plays in The Hangover 2
ends up with a similar (though not identical) tattoo. WB eventually settled that case to make it go away.
As a bunch of folks have sent in the news that tattoo artist Christopher Escobedo has sued video game company THQ because they accurately depicted UFC fighter Carlos Condit
in the game UFC Undisputed 2010. Condit has a prominent "lion" tattoo which is replicated in the game. You can see the tattoo here:
None of the news reports we've seen have posted the actual legal filing, so we've posted it here
and embedded it below. There are a few things worth noting. The game came out in 2010. Escobedo created the tattoo in 2009... but did not register it
until February 24, 2012. That may significantly
limit Escobedo's ability to collect. Specifically, if you want to ask for statutory damages
(up to $150,000), registration has to occur within 3 months of the work being published and
prior to infringement. In this case, neither happened -- which is why Escobedo is asking only for "actual damages." And that's going to make this case difficult for him. He's claiming that he wouldn't have licensed the image, which is how he's going to argue for really high damages, but a court might not buy any real or significant "damage" to the copyright being used in the game.
Honestly, much of this feels like the artist is using this more as a way to get publicity, rather than as a way to win a lawsuit. After all, the lawsuit got attention... because the artist issued his own press release
about it. That press release mentions the Mike Tyson tattoo case, suggesting that some people saw that and started looking for other opportunities to use tattoo cases to sue big companies, hoping for easy settlements.