Tattoo Copyright & Colin Kaepernick
When I started writing about tattoos and copyright law over a decade ago, I never really imagined just how seriously the rights of tattoo artists would be taken in the legal world and by big business. The issue of "Who owns your tattoo?" seemed to me, in the beginning, to be more like a cool question on one of my old law school exams and not one that has teams of lawyers making policy decisions based on tattoos. But it now has.
Last August, in my "Tattoo Copyright & Celebrities" post, I wrote about how the issue of copyright ownership concerning tattoos on football players was "a pressing issue" within the NFL Players Association. As this Forbes article notes, "[...] the association advised agents to tell their players that, when they get tattoos going forward, they should get a release from the tattoo artist, and if they can track down their former artists, they should get a release."
That's just what famed tattooed quarterback Colin Kaepernick did. According to the ESPN article "New 'Madden': Deal done in ink," Kaepernick is the first player in the history of Electronic Arts Sports' Madden video game franchise who will have his tattoos featured in a game because he took care of the tattoo copyright issues -- he got written permission to use the tattoo artwork from his tattoo artists.
As ESPN writes:
"We want to be as authentic as possible, so we were pleased that Colin was able to secure the rights to the tattoos," said Seann Graddy, senior producer of "Madden 15," which will hit the shelves on Aug. 26. "There's a ton of buzz around this. In this game, we only have Colin's tattoos, but we'd love to secure the rights to the tattoos of other players in the future."As the article notes, Kaepernick didn't have too much of a hurdle getting permissions because his extensive tattoo work was done by just two artists, Nes Andrion of Endless Ink in Reno, Nevada, and Orly Locquiao of Humble Beginnings in San Jose, California. However, so many sports figures are scratchpads for a multitude of artists they may not even remember, and so securing rights could be more difficult in those cases.
The issue of tattoo copyright really got people's attention with the infamous Mike Tyson Tattoo Copyright case, which I wrote extensively about here, here, and here. In that case, the tattooist who tattooed Tyson's facial tattoo, Victor Whitmill, sued Warner Bros. for copyright infringement in prominently featuring his tattoo design in The Hangover 2 and its advertising. When the court started taking the tattooist's claims seriously, the case settled, and big businesses and entitles like the NFL also started to take tattoo art seriously.
Yet, as this case with Kaepernick shows, respecting the rights of tattooists doesn't have to be problem; it can be a partnership.