Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mike Tyson's Tattoo

I have resisted writing about this for as long as I have resisted seeing the movie but by now everyone has heard about the recently settled lawsuit arising from "The Hangover Part II" specifically over Ed Helms replica of Mike Tyson's face tattoo.

Victor S. Whitmill, the tattoo artist who first gave Tyson his signature Maori-warrior inspired facial tattoo sued Warner Brothers for "reckless copyright infringement".

The concept may appear silly or sinister until one is reminded of the purpose of copyright --which is to protect "original works of authorship" including works of visual art. I have never represented a tattoo artist but I have represented professional photographers and graphic artists and I can attest that their rights are routinely violated by others who are either ignorant or unconcerned with their intellectual property rights in and to their own work. In this respect, Mr. Whitmill's lawsuit against the makers of "The Hangover Part II" has real significance.

Because the lawsuit settled we will never get to examine the more fascinating issues of the case – Warner Brothers' apparent defense of fair use (i.e. Mr. Helms' tattoo was allegedly a parody of Mike Tyson's tattoo) or my initial question – was Mr. Whitmill's tattoo "fixed in a tangible medium of expression"( as is required by Section 102 of the Copyright Act) but scholars will still have an opportunity to debate these issues for some time to come.

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