S. Victor Whitmill, the the designer of Mike Tyson’s distinctive “tribal” face tattoo, is suing Warner Bros. for copyright infringement. Actor Ed Helms sports a very similar-looking tattoo in the upcoming motion picture, “The Hangover Part II.”
Release obtained from Tyson
Whitmill is an award-winning tattoo artist who designed Mike Tyson’s facial tattoo, and he owns a copyright on it. On February 10, 2003, Whitmill tattooed the design onto Mike Tyson’s face, at which time he had the boxer-turned-actor sign a release guaranteeing Whitmill’s rights to the design.
Pictures were taken of the tattooing process. Subsequently, in 2003, Whitmill — who calls the design “one of the most distinctive tattoos in the nation” — registered the design with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Injunction attempts to block major release
Whitmill is asking for an injunction to stop the release of the film, slated for Memorial Day weekend. That weekend is traditionally an important one for the motion picture industry. “The Hangover Part II” is the much-anticipated sequel to the 2009 box-office smash “The Hangover,” which became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy in motion picture history.
A ‘tangible medium of expression’
The U.S. Copyright Office defines a “copyrightable” work as any made from an original idea in any “tangible medium of expression.” Although it is unusual, there is nothing in the description that rules out a tattoo on human skin.
Warners Bros. has several legal arguments
Warner Bros. has several legal arguments it could pursue in the case. The company could argue the copyright isn’t valid (which would be difficult in the face of so much documentation to the contrary), or that the design was changed enough to escape infringement (the design in the film, though very similar, is not an exact reproduction of the one worn by Tyson). Further, the studio could argue that the use of the tattoo in the film is “transformative,” meaning it is depicted in a larger context and so not an infringement. Or Warner Bros. could argue that the use of the tattoo in the film is parody and therefore is fair use.
Tyson participated in motion pictures
Mike Tyson makes a cameo in “The Hangover Part II” and played a larger role in the original “Hangover.”
NY Daily News: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-04-29/entertainment/29510338_1_tattoo-hangover-galifianakis-and-justin-bartha
Chicago Now: http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/ex-posts-facto/2011/05/hangover-2-hang-up-mike-tyson-tattoo-artist-sues-warner-bros-to-stop-release-of-movie.html
‘The Hangover Part II’ trailer
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