Does LeBron James Own His Tattoos?
By Justin Moore
Tattoos in sports video games are facing legal challenges
Video game market estimated to generate $138 billion in 2018
A company that acquires and licenses tattoo designs has filed suit against the makers of the popular video game series by Take-Two Interactive (TTWO +1.44%) NBA 2K, for including a digital re-creation of one of LeBron James’ tattoos in the game. Solid Oak Sketches claims it acquired the rights to the design from the tattoo artist who penned it on James, and they allege the NBA 2K producers owe them big for featuring the ink in the game without paying them a licensing agreement.
Why This Matters: Video games are becoming more and more life-like and tattoos are a part of that authenticity. Imagine a virtual LeBron with no tattoos. Player’s associations, in this case the NBA PA, often license the likenesses of its players to video game makers but it’s not clear whether that includes tattoos.
There’s a consensus that athletes can freely display their tattoos in public or in pictures and videos. However, when it comes to video games, as with many tech related developments, the law is playing catch up leaving us with more questions than answers. The latest installation of NBA 2K sold over 10 million units. Similar lawsuits have been filed, such as a suit over actor Ed Helm rocking Mike Tyson’s iconic face tat in Hangover II, but the parties privately settled before the courts could weigh in.
Situational Awareness: This suit pits culture versus the law. The tattoo industry frowns on artists suing their clients (LeBron’s tattoo artist does not support this lawsuit) but that doesn’t mean the courts will agree. If the suit is successful, video game makers may find it too costly to include players’ tattoos. Either way, athletes may want to get a pre-nup the next time they visit the tattoo parlor.
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