This month, the legal blogosphere has been all atwitter about aMissouri tattoo artist’s lawsuit against the studio behind The Hangover 2, and the artist’s attempt to stop not only the release of the film, but even block the studio’s ads and promotional materials. In case you aren’t up-to-date on your face art-related news (there’s just so much out there!), let’s catch you up: St. Louis tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill has sued Warner Bros. claiming that a tattoo featured on the face of one of The Hangover’s main characters, Stu Price, played by Ed Helms, infringed Whitmill’s copyright in a very similar tattoo he placed on boxing-champ Mike Tyson’s face back in 2003. A cursory comparison of the two tattoos shows how strikingly similar they are, and when coupled with Whitmill’s allegations, perhaps how worried WB should be. (Hat tip to TMZ for the side-by-side comparison.)
Whitmill alleges that in 2003 he created “one of the most distinctive tattoos in the nation” — one that looks nothing like a facial version of the tramp stamp gracing the lower back of half of the current denizens of Hollywood nightclubs — by placing an original “tribal tattoo” (the registered name of the copyrighted work) on the upper left side of Tyson’s face. At the time he applied the tattoo, Whitmill apparently had Tyson sign a release (attached as an exhibit toWhitmill’s complaint). Although the release primarily contains typical tattoo/piercing CYA language (the signing client represents they’re over 18, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, etc.) it also contains a provision stating “I understand that all artwork, sketches and drawings related to my tattoo and any photographs of my tattoo are property of Paradox-Studio of Dermagraphics” (Whitmill’s d/b/a, which pretty ingeniously linguistically science-ifies tattoo artistry).
While Whitmill’s release language seemingly purports to grant him ownership of any image of Tyson in which the tattoo is displayed (the actual photographers might have something to say about that, I think), Whitmill kept silent as Tyson and his tattoo made their big cameo in 2009’s summer juggernaut, The Hangover. It wasn’t until a look-a-like tattoo appeared on Ed Helms’ (extremely pained-looking) face in ads for The Hangover 2 that Whitmill decided to bring an infringement claim. And already, bemused legal eagles are wondering if it’s “the best copyright complaint ever.”