Tyson Face Tattoo in Hangover 2 Now a Lawsuit

Tattoo IP Litigation: Apparently, Warner Bros. failed to ask for permission from S. Victor Whitmill, or credit his creation most famously marked on Mike Tyson’s face, before it placed the image on the face the character Stu Price , played by actor Ed Helms, in its upcoming motion picture “The Hangover 2.”

Whitmill sued Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. in Missouri on Thursday.  According to the suit, the film features an exact reproduction of the original tattoo: “The pirated tattoo is a recurring device and plays an important role in the plot of the movie.”   The suit was accompanied by a motion for an injunction blocking the defendant from infringing Whitmill’s work.

How can a tatoo designer own something that is tattooed on another face?  According to the complaint, Whitmill made the design for Tyson in 2003, and at that time Tyson signed a release form acknowledging the work was the property of Whitmill’s business, called Paradox Studio of Dermagraphics.  The contract is an exhibit in the lawsuit, and, clear enough, the clause states “all artwork, sketches and drawings related to my tattoo and any photographs of my tattoo are property of Paradox-Studio of Dermagraphics.”  Just another example of how you can contract rights to just about anything.  Coincidentally, Techdirt featured two posts earlier this month on the role of tattoos under intellectual property law. (Is the face “the place of publication?”)

I think there is a settlement in the future.  Suing a movie before its release seems to happen more frequently [Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, and the sculptor who sued Warner Bros. for the large sculpture prominently featured in Al Pacino’s apartment (Mr. Pacino plays the Devil) in the film The Devil’s Advocate] and typically ends in either settlement or dismissal.  This one seem closer to settlement.

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