Saturday, June 11, 2011

Copyright Infringement Case: Over a Tattoo?!

"Studio Might Alter Tattoo in Hangover DVD Release"
David Kravets, Threat Level, Wired (June 10, 2011)

"Warner Bros. says it would digitally alter the tattoo on a character in the upcoming DVD version of its new comedy, The Hangover: Part II, if the studio is unable to resolve copyright litigation surrounding the ink design.

"A lawsuit brought by a Missouri tattooist asserts the movie features a 'virtually exact reproduction' of a copyright tattoo he inked on former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson in 2003. The tattoo appears on the Stu Price character played by actor Ed Helms.

"The judge presiding over the Missouri federal copyright-infringement case allowed the movie to debut last month, but kept the lawsuit by tattoo artist Victor Whitmill alive...."

(from Threat Level, Wired, used w/o permission)

The Lemming thought this lawsuit was the result of celebrity temperament and an ethically-challenged lawyer tangling with a production company that didn't do its homework. That opinion changed, when the Lemming discovered that it wasn't Mr. Tyson who was suing: it was Victor Whitmill, who created Mr. Tyson's tattoo.

Judging from the photo, there may be differences between the tattoo on Stu's face and Mr. Tysons. But those differences are quite likely due to Ed Helms, who plays Stu in Hangover II, having a head that isn't quite the same shape as Mr. Tyson.

Art, Movies, Scripts, and Getting a Grip

The Lemming has no problem with Stu waking up one morning with furry eyeballs and a tattoo he can't remember getting. Stu might be the sort of person who would be in that situation.

Stu's mystery tattoo being virtually identical to Mike Tyson's isn't implausible, either. It isn't, the Lemming thinks, that big a stretch of the imagination to think that Stu stumbled into a tattoo parlor one night. Clutching a magazine with Mr. Tyson on the cover, he demanded a tattoo "just like him!" The tattoo artist might, plausibly, determine that Stu had cash to cover the job - and duplicated the tattoo.

So far, no problem.

The problem, in the Lemming's opinion, is that apparently nobody working with director Todd Phillips, or Warner Brothers, had the presence of mind to find out who did the tattoo, and get a release form signed.

Sure, Mr. Whitmill might have insisted on having his name in the credits, a more-than-token payment for use of his artwork, or both - but the Lemming thinks that would have been less expensive than what Warner Brothers is spending on the lawsuit.

A Copyright Tattoo: Ridiculous? Maybe, Maybe Not

Wired has "The Courts, The Ridiculous," listed as Categories for this piece.

"The Courts" makes sense, since what could have been a simple business transaction is now a court case. "The Ridiculous," not so much - in the Lemming's opinion.

But the Lemming is biased. Tattoos may not be the sort of art that rich snobs gush over, but the Lemming things that the things are, arguably, art. An artist may decide to waive copyright: and hats off to the folks who do so. But an artist also, in the Lemming's opinion, have some protection from folks who want to use the artist's work without compensation.

Or, apparently, credit.

In the Lemming's opinion.

The Lemming's, again, is biased. One of the Lemming's kids is an artist and writer, another a writer: and the Lemming does both. That puts the Lemming closer to Victor Whitmill's position, than Warner Brothers'.

Apparently nobody's tried enforcing copyright on a tattoo in American courts - and succeeded. Well, there's a first time for everything.

Finally, is the Lemming a hypocrite, criticizing Warner Brothers for copying a tattoo, and then posting a photo of Mr. Tyson and Ed Helms? The Lemming doesn't think so - the photos are an illustration from the Wired article, identified as such, and are relevant to this micro-review: which links to the Wired article, and a data page about Hangover II. The Lemming's no legal expert, but that seems to come well within "fair use."

Related posts:
More posts by the Lemming, about intellectual property:


Brigid said...

Stutter: "But an artist also, in the Lemming's opinion, should also"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

(And, technically, I'm kinda both a writer and artist, but I have actual training in being an artist.)

Brian Gill said...


Ri-i-ight! Sorry 'bout that. I'm fixing that. Those.

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