NBA2K16 Lawsuit Questions Who Owns Tattoos

A tattoo licensing company, Solid Oak Sketches LLC, is suing NBA2K, the professional basketball video game series, for copyright infringement. Solid Oak argues that the realistic depiction of tattoos on the bodies of multiple NBA players, including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, in the NBA2K16 video game violated the copyright that Solid Oak owns. On April 19, 2016, the makers of the video game filed for a motion to dismiss the claim.

Solid Oaks  obtained the license to most of the tattoos from the original artists in 2015. After obtaining the rights, Solid Oaks sent multiple letters to NBA2K makes offering to sell the license to the tattoos for $1.1 million. Solid Oak computed the worth of each of the tattoos based on past awards and the sales of NBA2K. Further, it emphasized the use of LeBron James’ tattoos because he was also featured on the cover of the video game. With no response, Solid Oaks filed its claim for damages.

Interestingly, a video-game maker has been subjected to a lawsuit in the past for using a tattoo without permission. A judge awarded $22,500 to a tattoo artist for the use of a tattoo without permission in a UFC game, but did not write a judicial opinion. Initially, the artists had claimed $4.1 million. In 2011, Mike Tyson’s tattoo artist sued Warner Bros. for use of Tyson’s tattoos in Hangover 2. This matter was settled out of court after the artist attempt to halt the release of the movie.

The question of whether a tattoo can be copyrighted has yet to be answered by a final court opinion. This case can potentially settle this question.

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