I previously wrote on the growing concern in the tattoo industry over copyrighting and licensing custom tattoos on professional athletes should their likeness be used on a public forum with the art visible, an issue that is quickly gaining traction in the world of professional sports. Christopher Escobebo, a Phoenix based tattoo artist has recently filed a lawsuit against THQ, creators of the game “UFC Undisputed” which features Carlos Condit with his tattoos visible; a UFC fighter that Escobebo tattooed four years ago.
Similarly, in 2005, Matthew Reed filed a lawsuit against Nike, against it’s advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy, and one against NBA player Rasheed Wallace over an advertisement that showed Wallace’s tattoo, which he created; thats a boom tre. As we saw with the Mike Tyson face tattoo case, these were settled out of court.
Advised by the NFLPA, pro football players have been advised to sign waiver release forms as a proactive measure in case any more lawsuits arise, despite any established trust or close relationship; money can change everything.
Copyright laws are tricky and full of loopholes. Presumably, if the artist can prove that the image is indeed his own original creation, that image can be copyrighted, just as a painting, logo or other form of branding. It gets a little strange when you are dealing with copyrighting things a person’s body. Once the customer leaves the tattoo shop, how much say in distribution or replication does the artist actually have? If this was a genuine concern, tattoo artists would have latched on to waiver release forms and licensing agreements years ago, and with every customer, in order to cover all bases.
It has to be implied that some of the rights are given to the wearer, no? Intellectual property lawyer Timothy Bradley extensively wrote about tattoos and copyright, and covers almost all bases when it comes to this strange issue, and believes the nature of this concern is that once an artist actually files a copyright claim, he becomes eligible for statutory damages and compensation, whether or not the replicated image hurt the artists image or business. It’s a cash cow.
The most obvious and cheapest scenario, as mentioned many times before, is for the celebrity or athlete sign a pre-determined waiver that relinquishes their “rights” to the image, for a small price that would keep both parties at bay.
This of course is still an emerging hot topic and there will surely be more headlines to be made. Other things to consider; suppose a different tattoo artist adds to or changes an existing tattoo, even in the slightest way, altering the image, does the copyright become void? Tattoo collaborations are common occurrences these days, so without an agreed arrangement, whose intellectual property is it? Is the next step to literally ink a copyright symbol to ward off any liability? These variables will be brought up sooner or later.