Company files lawsuit after copyrighting NBA players’ tattoos

| Feb 12, 2016 | Copyright Law

NBA fans in California may be interested to learn that there is a copyright infringement case involving Kobe Bryant’s tattoos. At the center of the lawsuit is a basketball-themed video game called NBA 2K16. According to a company called Solid Oak Sketches, the makers of NBA 2K16 used copyrighted tattoo designs in the game without permission.

While it is known that a video game maker cannot use a person’s likeness in a game without asking that individual’s permission, the rules about using tattoo designs are not as clear. Solid Oak Sketches purchased the rights to license several tattoo designs that adorn players like Kobe Bryant, Kenyon Martin and LeBron James. The company claims that its copyrights were violated when these designs were featured on NBA players in NBA 2K16.

Because similar cases have all been settled out of court, no legal precedent for the use of copyrighted tattoos has been set. However, the judge in a high-profile case involving Mike Tyson’s face tattoo said publicly that tattoos can be copyrighted. In Whitmill v. Warner Bros, Tyson’s tattoo artist sued the makers of ‘The Hangover 2″ for replicating Tyson’s face tattoo design in their movie.

Copyrighted material is often very important to a company’s public image. Certain images and phrases that are strongly connected to a company could help build strong brand recognition with customers. When copyrighted materials are used without a company’s permission, the result can be a damaged reputation and lost profits. An attorney may be able to help a company or individual pursue financial compensation by filing a copyright infringement complaint.