As art, tattoos should be protected under copyright law. It only makes sense to me that I couldn’t paint a replica of the Mona Lisa and go around claiming that it was my own original art. It really shouldn’t make a difference whether you’re talking about the Mona Lisa or a custom tattoo the size of a quarter. An artist’s art is their art and no one else should be able to gain from it, other than the artist him/herself.
In The Hangover, the 2009 film that pretty much everyone in the world saw, Mike Tyson makes a cameo as himself, complete with his notorious facial tattoo. This month, The Hangover Part II is due to be released. Aside from looking identical to its predecessor, there is also one other similarity – though this one could cause the film’s makers and its studio one big giant headache.
In The Hangover Part II, Ed Helms character Stu Price wakes up after a night of drunken debauchery (this time in Bangkok) to discover that he now has the exact same facial tattoo as Mike Tyson. While this might be considered comedy gold for some, one person who really isn’t laughing is the tattooist who originally gave Mike Tyson his facial tattoo, S. Victor Whitmill. In fact, Whitmill has launched a copyright lawsuit, trying to block the film’s release. Serious stuff.
‘The lawsuit argues that the only authorized version of the tattoo is the one on Mike Tyson’s face, and that any other version is a pirated version. It asks the judge to issue an injunction stopping the movie from launching on schedule.’
This whole thing kind of reminds me of the Crispin Glover lawsuit when Back to the Future Part II came out. You see, in the first Back to the Future film, Glover played George McFly. Glover didn’t return for the second film and when he didn’t return, Universal Studios saw fit to use Crispin Glover’s likeness without actually paying him for it. Glover sued and although the case was eventually thrown out of court, it created an entire new clause for filmmaking and the use of an actor’s likeness.
So should S. Victor Whitmill be able to sue over his tattoo design being used without his permission? I would say so, yes. And if the courts also see it this way, Warner Brothers Entertainment could end up dishing out a large sum of cash in order to save the release of The Hangover Part II.