As the number of Americans with tattoos increases, it appears that tattoo-related litigation is increasing as well. Most recently, tattoo artist Chris Escobedo sued video gamemaker THQ because THQ’s game, UFC Undisputed 3, features UFC fighter Carlos Condit, as well as the giant lion that Escobedo tattooed on Condit’s right oblique. While THQ got the rights to use Condit’s image, Escobedo claims that the lion tattoo is his art and that THQ is using it without his permission (You can find a copy of the complaint here. I’ll note that this complaint has pictures embedded in it, a technique I like to use in pleadings where appropriate — much to the chagrin of some older (ahem, more experienced) attorneys. For perhaps the best example in history, see this brief filed by the Dallas Mavericks.).
Tattoo litigation enthusiasts may remember a similar lawsuit from last year in which Mike Tyson’s tattoo artist sued the makers of the Hangover 2 because that movie featured a replica of Tyson’s face tattoo on Ed Helms. That suit did not reach the merits as the sides settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
After about 15 minutes of research, I wasn’t able to determine whether any of these types of cases have been decided on the merits, but the legal issues are certainly interesting and are likely to have far-reaching consequences. If a court determines that the tattoo artist, and not the person with the tattoo, owns the rights, my first thought is that makers of NBA games better watch out (fortunately for my firm, we aren’t likely to draw the ire of my tattoo artist unless we start featuring shirtless pictures on our firm biographies. Even then, the flood of intentional infliction of emotional distress lawsuits are likely to overshadow any copyright infringement lawsuits).