Take-Two wins lawsuit over LeBron James’ tattoos

A jury voted unanimously in favor of Take-Two Interactive Software on Friday, rejecting tattoo artist Jimmy Hayden’s claims that the video game maker violated copyrights in recreating Los Angeles Lakers super satar LeBron James in its NBA 2K series. After a week in court in Ohio, the jury ruled that Take-Two has an implied license to recreate James’ tattoos, something granted to the game maker under James’ agreement with the company.

Hayden first sued Take-Two in 2017 over the use of several tattoos he made for James that were reproduced in NBA 2K games from 2016 to 2020.

Take-Two attorney Dale Cendali said the company is “pleased” with the verdict. He continued: “The decision is an important one for the entertainment industry. It’s also an important decision for anyone who has ever had a tattoo and might otherwise have worried about the freedom to share their body with their tattoos. And it’s a good development for tattoo artists, because a statement to the contrary could have discouraged people from getting tattoos at a time when the art form is flourishing.” Hayden’s attorneys did not respond to Polygon’s request for comment.

Hayden originally sued over six tattoos he made for James, but U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko ruled against the artist in early 2024, saying Hayden could only sue for two of those six tattoos: a tattoo of stars and another of James’ name ‘ mother. , Gloria.

The jury trial began Monday with opening arguments, with Hayden’s attorney Todd Tucker saying Take-Two had “closely copied” Hayden’s work on the game, according to a local news outlet. cleveland.com. In addition to opening arguments, jurors watched clips from NBA 2K games featuring James. James did not appear in court, but Take-Two’s lawyers planned to play his recorded statement to the jury. Take-Two also called on game designer and Play everything author Ian Bogost as a witness, according to court documents.

Image: 2K Games/Take-Two interactive software

Tucker told jurors that Hayden has compensated for the use of his tattoos – even on James – by other companies, such as Warner Bros Space jam 2. He was paid $1,500 for that, Tucker said.

For Take-Two, attorney Dale Cendali said Hayden only got paid after filing the lawsuit, and that James’ tattoos are a very small part of NBA 2K. Cendali said James has licensed his own likeness to Take-Two through the NBA Players Association – a ruling in Hayden’s favor would mean James would have to ask Hayden for permission to license his own creature, as reported by cleveland.com.

“Take-Two did not need permission because Mr. James had already given Take-Two permission,” Cendali said. “That is exactly what this case is about. The whole point is Mr. James’ ability to license his likeness. This case affects Mr. James far more than Take-Two.”

The question at stake is whether a tattoo artist can copyright the art he or she has given “implied license” — that is, placing something permanently on someone’s body. Sure, a sketch or design can be copyrighted, but once it belongs to someone else, who owns it? On Hayden’s part, it’s a trademark issue, but Take-Two says a win in Hayden’s favor makes this a serious issue of ownership of the license to someone’s likeness. It’s an issue that video game companies and tattoo artists have been litigating about for years — and there’s still no real legal consensus.

This isn’t the first time a video game company has been sued over an athlete’s tattoos — not even the first for Take-Two. A company called Solid Oak Sketches sued Take-Two in 2016 over James’ tattoos, as well as tattoos of Kobe Bryant, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and Kenyon Martin. Solid Oak Sketches said it had licensing agreements for the tattoos. Take-Two won that lawsuit in 2020 after a judge declared the tattoos fair use. On the other hand, Take-Two lost a lawsuit filed by tattoo artist Catherine Alexander in 2022, who placed five tattoos on WWE wrestler Randy Orton. She filed in 2018 after those designs on Orton appeared in WWE 2K games and ultimately received $3,750 in damages — not a huge win, but an increase from the $450 WWE originally (and unsuccessfully) paid her for licensing offered, she said.

Hayden, the tattoo artist from this shop, still has a lawsuit pending with Take-Two over the use of tattoos on James, Danny Green and Tristan Thompson NBA2K21; that lawsuit was stayed until a decision was made in the ongoing lawsuit.

In 2012, a tattoo artist sued Electronic Arts over an NFL tattoo of Ricky Williams’ arms after they were reproduced in NFL Street. In 2013, another tattoo artist sued THQ UFC undisputed 3, in which a tattoo from the work of artist Christopher Escobedo appears on fighter Carlos Condit. Both lawsuits were dismissed, and Condit’s tattoos have been removed from UFC play.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the jury’s decision in favor of Take-Two Interactive Software.