Are Tattoos Copyrightable? NBA Video Game Maker Sued for Using LeBron, Kobe Body Art

By | February 2, 2016

Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. has been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit over its depiction of tattoos belonging to National Basketball Association stars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in a popular video game.

In a complaint filed on Monday in Manhattan federal court, Solid Oak Sketches LLC said Take-Two should pay damages for incorporating eight tattoo designs, which the plaintiff had licensed from various artists, into its NBA 2K16 game.

While “the issue of tattoo copyrightability has yet to be decided upon in court due to numerous settlements,” the tattoo artists’ works are the kind of “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” that deserve legal protection, Solid Oak said.

LeBron James   (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

LeBron James
(AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Among the works in question are the words “Hold My Own” on James’ left bicep, a crown with butterflies on Bryant’s right bicep, and tattoos on the bodies of NBA players Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan and Kenyon Martin, according to court papers.

Take-Two has said it sold more than 4 million copies of NBA 2K16 in the first week after its release last Sept. 29.

A spokesman, Alan Lewis, said the New York-based company does not comment on legal matters.

The lawsuit seeks a halt to any infringements, plus damages as high as $150,000 per infringement.

It follows what Solid Oak said was an unsuccessful effort to negotiate a licensing arrangement with Take-Two.

In a July 28 letter filed with the court, lawyers for the tattoo artists had offered Take-Two a perpetual license for the eight tattoos in question, in exchange for a $1.14 million fee.

Darren Heitner, a lawyer for Solid Oak, declined to elaborate on the complaint.

The case is Solid Oak Sketches LLC v. Visual Concepts LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-00724.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Latest Comments

  • September 6, 2016 at 2:18 pm
    vintageweddinginvitations says:
    Science is one thing, wisdom is another. Science is an edged tool, with which men play like children, and cut their own fingers.
  • February 3, 2016 at 8:49 am
    tattooDavid says:
    The tattoo artists created the tattoo's as a "work for hire". As such, the art they created (i.e. the tattoos, and their design rights) became property of the person hiring th... read more
  • February 2, 2016 at 4:01 pm
    ExciteBiker says:
    I sound like a broken record, but our intellectual property laws are insane. We are locking up our culture--arguably America's single greatest asset and our best tool to furth... read more
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