More interesting news on the tattoo copyright front, which you know I love as a lawyer and tattoo nerd!
On Monday, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York against Take-Two Interactive and other companies associated with the video game NBA 2K16 for reproducing the tattoos of the basketball stars featured in the game series without permission.
The suit was filed by Solid Oak Sketches, a company who licensed the tattoo designs from the following artists who tattooed stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant: Justin Wright (LeBron James), Shawn Rome (LeBron James), Tommy Ray Cornett (Eric Bledsoe and Kenyon Martin), Robert Benedetti (Kobe Bryant), and Leslie Hennelly (DeAndre Jordan). More on the licensing deal later in this post.
The lawsuit filing, Solid Oak Sketches v Take-Two, can be found here.
Ok, let me break this down:
While I've been writing about tattoo copyright since 2003, the discussion of tattoos being protected under copyright law didn't really get much buzz until 2011, when the infamous Mike Tyson Tattoo Copyright case was filed. I wrote about that extensively 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. The case, S. Victor Whitmill v. Warner Bros., settled for an undisclosed amount, soon after Judge Catherine D. Perry, who presided over the preliminary injunction phase, stated: "Of course tattoos can be copyrighted. I don't think there is any reasonable dispute about that . . . . [T]he tattoo itself and the design itself can be copyrighted, and I think it's entirely consistent with the copyright law."
Fast forward to July this past summer, when the lawyer for Tyson's tattooer, Michael Kahn, reached out Take-Two Interactive to reach a deal on behalf of the tattooers. As noted in Bloomberg Business:
Kahn offered to drop the threat of legal action against Take Two in exchange for $819,500, covering the use of eight tattoos in the 2014 and 2015 versions of the game, according to a copy of the letter filed with the complaint. The law firm also offered a perpetual license covering 2016 and beyond for $1.44 million.
You can find the letter and the breakdown of the interesting math used to reach these numbers in the exhibits to the lawsuit filing.
I'm guessing, however, that the case will settle as other tattoo copyright cases have.
And then we'll probably see the NBA get after their players to get releases from their tattoo artists to the rights to their tattoos -- just as the NFL did in August 2013.
When artists and athletes come to agreements on tattoo artwork, it can be a win-win, as we saw with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who got written permission from his tattoo artists to feature his tattoos in the Madden video game franchise. More on that deal here.
So, what kind of deal are we talking about for tattoo artists licensing their art? In the exhibits to the complaint filing, you'll find the licensing agreements between the tattooers and Solid Oak. In them, the artists get 8% of the net earnings of Solid Oak for their designs. I've seen licensing agreements go for more, but it depends on the deals and also how good your lawyer is.
The lesson here is that the rights of tattoo artists are being taken more seriously -- and even more so with every suit filed.
For more on my writing on tattoo copyright in the US check these links:
Video screen capture above from Yahoo Fantasy Sports: Colin Kaerpernick Ink.
Last week, Forbes published an article entitled "Questions Concerning Copyright Of Athlete Tattoos Has Companies Scrambling." It's amazing for me to watch the evolution of the tattoo copyright concept because, when I started writing about it in 2003, people kind of laughed at it: some fellow lawyers told me that tattoos would never get copyright protection and tattooers told me to keep my dirty legal paws off the art form. Not many people took it seriously. Ten years later, people are definitely paying attention, particularly companies and organizations who may risk law suits from tattooers when they wrongfully appropriate a custom tattoo design. And that's what this Forbes article is about in relation to the National Football League and companies that make money off of athletes outside the field.
According to sources speaking to FORBES on condition of anonymity, the issue of copyright ownership concerning tattoos on football players has very recently been labeled as a pressing issue by the NFL Players Association. One source said, "I don't blame [the NFLPA], but they should have been on top of it earlier. It was something that was mentioned at the NFL Combine -- that was the first I had ever heard them mention anything on the issue of tattoos. They 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.Getting a release means that the tattoo artist gives up his/her rights to the custom tattoo work (notice, I'm not talking about tattoo flash, which is another issue altogether). Many artists I know would have no problem with this: some may believe that the press generated from the tattoo may bring in more business, some just like seeing their artwork being shown to a wide audience, and others really don't care what happens with the tattoo when it walks out the studio door.
But there are options for artists regarding the rights to their work:
Here's one of the biggest problems: Athletes and celebrities are NOTORIOUS for having bad tattoos. Why? When they want them, they want them at that moment. I hear countless stories of celebrities walking into a shop and expecting the artists to put down their machines and take care of their immediate tattoo needs. So, do you think that many even remember who tattooed them? On bodies filled with little bangers, are they going to travel the world trying to find all the artists who worked on them so they can sign a contract? It's not practical for so many.
Articles on tattoo copyright today cite the issues that arose in Whitmill v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc -- the Mike Tyson tattoo case, which I wrote about here, here, and here.
In that case, the tattooist who tattooed Mike Tyson's infamous facial tattoo, Victor Whitmill, sued Warner Bros. for copyright infringement in prominently featuring his tattoo design in the The Hangover 2 and its advertising. In the film, a bachelor party once again leaves its wacky heroes with no clue of what happened the night before, except for a facial tattoo on the groom Stu played by Ed Helms--a tattoo that is practically exact to the one Whitmill inked on Tyson. The lawsuit sought damages and an injunction to stop the use of the tattoo in the film, which would've delayed its big Memorial Day release. The injunction wasn't granted but Judge Catherine D. Perry of Federal District Court in St. Louis did say that Whitmill had a "strong likelihood of prevailing on the merits for copyright infringement" and that most of the arguments put forward by Warner Bros. were "just silly." The case settled soon after in June 2012.
But this wasn't the first case of tattoo copyright involving celebrities. In 2005, Portland tattooist Matthew Reed sued Rasheed Wallace and Nike to stop them from using the custom tattoos he designed for the basketball star in a Nike sneaker ad. The ad focused on the tattoo and even simulated its creation. Also in 2005, UK tattooist Louis Molloy threatened to sue David Beckham if he went ahead with a promotional campaign that also focused on a tattoo Molloy did for him (the guardian angel tattoo). With no clear answer on how judges would go in the cases, agreements between these athletes and artists were reached outside the courts.
The bottom line is that there would have been a less likely chance of the tattooists even thinking about a lawsuit if there was an agreement before the tattoo session even started, or at least a conversation about who owns the rights to the custom work.
Yet, should lawyers be brought into every session?
Will the whole discussion of rights mar the experience of getting a tattoo?
Or does it even matter?
Will it just be like the waivers and releases clients sign before they get tattooed?
It's tricky. There are no easy answers -- which makes it an interesting discussion, and also a scary one for the NFL and companies doing business with heavily tattooed celebrities. And like I have for the past ten years, I'll keep watching how it plays out.
For more on my writing on tattoo copyright check these links:
Tattoos on beautiful Olympic bodies were the biggest buzz this past week. The hottest one: USA speed skater J.R. Selski's chest piece (above) -- screen-capped around the world -- revealed as he took his shirt off after being disqualified in the men's 1000-meter short track speed skating on Sunday (he won the Bronze in the men's 1500-meter last week). Speculation over the meaning of the tattoo sped over Olympic blogs. Celski is of Filipino and Polish heritage and so talk of the tattoo being a blend of those countries' flags seems to hit the mark. [Thanks to Regin Schwaen for the link!]
Then there is Britain's ice dancing minx, Sinead Kerr, whose
The mini-Olympic rings tattoo on hockey player Julie Chu's foot stars in this NBC video -- a sweet story on how her whole family got matching tattoos in honor of her making the Olympic team. More on that tattoo here.
Chu's not the only tattooed hockey player on the US team. The identical Lamoureux sisters sport a family crest -- inked at their kitchen table by a local tattooer -- but on different body parts, which helps tell them apart.
And Bronze-medal winning snowboarder Scotty Lago shows off his tattoos (including faded lip work) and talks about more to come in this video.
Whether kitchen scratched, tramp-stamped or lip inked, the tattoos still mark bodies of those who can kick my butt as I type this sitting on my own big Greek one, so respect.
Ok, let's hit headlines in my own ring: the tattoo law links...
There's more news on South Carolina lowering the tattoo age requirement from 21 to 18 years of age. As I noted in a previous news review, much of the push to change the law comes from the inequity of allowing 18-year-olds to go to war but prohibiting them from marking their experience on skin when they return. That and of course money leaving the state as those under 21 go to Georgia or North Carolina to get tattooed. The Governor will decide whether the new bill changing tattoo requirements will be put into law. Keep in mind that the art was completely banned in the state until 2004, but it wasn't until March 2006 when regulations were in force for legal tattooing. [Oklahoma was the last state to lift their tattoo ban in May 2006.]
New York City's tattoo ban was lifted in 1997. Of course, many -- myself included -- were getting work pre-legalization, but once the signs were allowed to flash "Tattoo" neon in shop windows, the amount of tattooed bodies in the city made it like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, a garden of epidermal delights. Also delighting in the tattoo tidal wave has been law enforcement, melding old school skin art with technology to identify suspects -- as this popular NY Times article pointed out last week. We've talked about databases of criminal tattoos before but the article shows just how detailed -- and some argue invasive -- the Real Time Crime Center can be.
As this Orlando Sentinel article points out, the popularity of tattoos dilutes criminal tattoo identification because so many are getting inked with designs that once solely marked gang members.
And simply, so many are getting tattooed with flash designs. Will everyone with "Mom" on their bicep be a suspect because one idiot with that tattoo committed a crime? I'll be keeping a watch on the legality of these tattoo databases and whether they begin to truly impinge on civil liberties.
In pop culture and on its fringes, here are the tattoo headlines ...
Now there is someone in this world with an Ashton Kutcher tattoo. [right]
No.1 tattoo rule: Spell Check.
Nicole Richie regrets her dumbass tattoos.
With Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland release next month, we'll be seeing more of these Lewis Carroll tattoo stories.
Still diggin USA Today's Tattoo Tuesday blog but wish they'd credit all the tattooists whose work is featured.
Executive Chef of Sysco Food Services, Randy King, says Uncover those tattoos to restaurant workers.
And ending on a tear-jerking story...
Tattoo tributes to Renee Benson, a 29-year-old Orange County native who died of several forms of cancer, marked over 50 of her friends and family last week during a fundraiser at HB Tattoo in her honor. [More than $2,500 was raised for Benson's family to help cover medical costs.] Warning: the photos will hit you.
Tattoo by Swastika Freakshop
After spending most of last week at my Ohm-tastic yoga retreat, I came back feelin goooood, and so I promise a zen like news review, free of blogger snark but full of tattoo goodness.
To prove my tantric love, I wont even mock Miami Heat's Michael Beasley's new "Super Cool Beas" tattoo (and ganja love), nor say things like the Kat Von D concealer for Sephora "looks like an amazing product. If you like eczema." I'm too full of peace and oneness for that even if it does prove what I said about my own trial of the concealer (noted here).
So let's get on with the love fest ...
Check this 7x7 interview with Shawn Barber, where the painter and tattooist discusses his own love of the craft:
"Tattooing gives so much more than it takes. It allows an individual to acknowledge life with permanent markers. Getting tattooed is a leap of faith that reminds you of that exact time and place for the rest of your life."
This past weekend, Shawn was one of the many great artists working the Tattoo Hollywood Convention in LA, reported on by Modblog here and here.
Other conventions covered this weekend were Rhode Island's Rock the Ink, and the Alberta tattoo convention, where Lucky Diamond Rich -- the world's most tattooed person shown below -- stole the show.
Only more beautifully freaky than Lucky is this news item: "A man with a tattoo of Britney Spears' name on his arm or neck allegedly stole a Chihuahua with pink earrings from a South Florida gay bar." I'll just leave it at that, thank you.
But please explain why people with distinguishing tattoos continue to commit crimes. [Indeed, a Hitler tattoo will be used in a hate-crime trial.]
In Russia, however, hate symbols like the Nazi swastika, can be ordered removed on offenders. I disagree, if only because I like to know what kinda haters I'm dealing with. Tattoos can be a great personal filter for people you meet in life.
[Tattoos will also give you away if you try to have sex with your twin's girlfriend.]
For those who want a fresh star, British Columbia's Gang Task force will remove affiliate tattoos, but only for gang intel. The comments are particularly interesting. [Thanks, Brayden!]
Thankfully, some bod mod over-achievers were celebrated in the news this week: pierced and tattooed Olympians.
And finally, the bonus quiz: Guess the celebrity tattoos.
That's it this week. Namaste, friends.
Hope my fellow Americans had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. Mine was memorable as it involved my dad and a freak landscaping accident -- one almost as bad as The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace. But my father's feet have all their toes once again, and I can get back to what really matters in life ...
... Jermain Dupri's latest tattoo. The rapper/producer just got this twist on the "Holy Mother" black and grey portrait tattoo (shown above) by Jun Cha. And who plays the blessed virgin? Well, naturally, Janet. Miss Jackson if ya
I know. I'm bloggin while bitchy. Please forgive. Reading too many of these you-kids-get-off-my-lawn anti-ink rants.
But thankfully, a thoughtful article emerged from the mass of eewww-the-Denver-Nuggets-have-too-many-tattoos stories. Check Benjamin Hochman's piece for the AP on the Birdman's tattooist, John Slaughter of Denver's Tribe Tattoo. Slaughter offers this quote on the team's tattoos, among other
"Tattoos, for thousands of years, have been associated with tribes of people. And throughout the NBA, we are the most-tattooed team. It says that they're pretty self-expressive. It's almost like every single tattoo is a stage or a level in life that you've accomplished or gotten through-and where you're headed next."
In more from the grumpy old man front, Jonathan Zimmerman of the NY Daily News whines about his daughter wanting to get a tattoo; yet, even though he finds them "revolting," he can't come up with a good reason not to get one. In the end, the best advice for revolt
You don't need Barbie to tell you tattoos are mainstream. The freakin NY Times bleeds out a monthly tattoo story on a scheduled cycle. This week it reviews "Skin & Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor" -- check our April post on it -- and offers some interesting info behind the exhibit, like this:
"In the late 18th century, the show points out, tattoos would have served as a way of identifying bodies in cases of drowning; they were marks of association and identity that could not be eradicated by pirates, shipwrecks or enemy capture. [...] Each had a 'Sailor Protection Certificate' that was carried as a form of identification that detailed the tattoos on its bearer's body; these descriptions often remain the sole remnants of individuality in these once-anonymous figures."
The Times also posts a slide show of some of the exhibits including this archival photo from 1899 of a sailor getting tattooed aboard the U.S.S. Olympia.
To reclaim tattoo cool, we thankfully have German thrash metal veterans. Blabbermouth says that Drummer Jurgen "Ventor" Reil of Kreator has opened a tattoo shop in Essen, Germany called Carnap Ink Corporation, and true to their roots, they're doing tattoos you would find on metal heads in the early eighties. Take that as you wish.
The always cool Mark Mahoney of Shamrock Social Club is featured in a sweet and extensive profile in Lowrider Arte. What does he think about the Tattoo Barbie effect?
"There are two things that blow my mind: the fact that you can now remove them or that people can use cream to make the tattoo process painless. I remember how it used to be a scary thing to get a tattoo and how it hurt and that it couldn't be removed, but now you can avoid all that and some of that punch is watered down a bit since you have a way out. In a way that makes me sad, however I do realize that it's good for the business in the long run. I guess I just kind of miss the old days when you had to be an outlaw, or you had to be a real brave soul to get a tattoo."
Bringing it full circle, Mahoney's also tattooed Jermain Dupri, but not with any biblical nip slips.
Quick and Dirty Link Time:
Tattoo by Jondix of LTW Tattoo in Barcelona, Spain -- one of the many featured artists in my upcoming book on blackwork tattooing due out this Fall. More black tattoo photos to come.
I'm just getting over the food and ouzo orgy that was this past weekend's Greek Easter celebration, a Brooklyn backyard bacchanal where chasing around unsuspecting guests with a lamb tongue on BBQ tongs is not only encouraged but specifically laid out in the Bible, right next to promoting "opposite marriage." [See the gory Greeky pix on Facebook.]
Lucky for me, the news was not as juicy as our giblets, so I didn't have too many headlines to trawl through, but I did catch a few tasty treats on the net. Here goes:
More people are getting medic alert tattoos, prompting the medical community to address the legal and ethical issues behind them. Over the years, I've seen A LOT of Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) tattoos, particularly on people over 70 -- like this fiesty Kiwi who sparked debate worldwide last year over the enforceability of DNR ink. In the US, a mere DNR tattoo generally won't cut it. You need to back up your wishes with a valid DNR Order. Better use of those tattoos would be alerts of serious allergies, pre-existing conditions and even blood type, but hell, the jewelry has been doing a good job at that, so save ya skin for art.
In a reminder of how tattoos were once put to horrific use, Auschwitz camp survivors were reunited Sunday at Israel's Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. The AP reports:
As terrified teenagers 65 years ago, Menachem Sholowicz and Anshel Sieradzki stood in line together in Auschwitz, having serial numbers tattooed on their arms. Sholowicz was B-14594; Sieradzki was B-14595.
This AP photo of the men has also been widely circulating around the Internet.
The small numbers needled in Auschwitz have been some of the greatest modern day symbols, not only serving as reminders of the genocide but also of survival and unity, as shown in the article.
Auschwitz tattoos have also had an impact on modern Jewish culture in relation to young Jews wishing to get artful ink, with the dark stigma carried over (beyond biblical texts on body markings).
For the best discussion on Jews and tattoos, read Craig Dershowitz's interview with Rabbi Henry Harris.
In more news on culture and tattoos, the Isle of Man's Manx Heritage Foundation is photographing people with Manx tattoos for a new promo campaign. The most popular tattoo is the "Three Legs of Man" symbol, which Wikipedia says originates in the legend that the Celtic god Manannan defeated invaders by transforming into the three legs and rolling down the hill.
If only there was as good a story behind the San Jose Shark Man.