Mike Tyson's Tattoo Artist Sues to Block 'Hangover' Sequel

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 05, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Can a tattoo artist stop the release of a Hollywood film?

S. Victor Whitmill is trying to find out.

Creator of the Mike Tyson tattoo (you know, the Maori print on his face), Whitmill is asking a court to prevent Warner Bros. from releasing The Hangover: Part II because he believes that a tattoo in the movie infringes upon his copyright.

According to the lawsuit, when Tyson got the original face tattoo, he and Whitmill agreed that the tattoo artist would retain all rights to the artwork, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

He now claims that a tattoo painted onto the face of an actor in the movie infringes upon those rights, as it closely resembles the original Mike Tyson tattoo.

Ed Helms, The Hangover: Part II (Photo Credit: Warner Bros/StarPulse)

Oddly enough, tattoos can be copyrighted.

Copyright law only requires that artwork be original and that they are "fixed"--somehow permanent in a tangible medium of expression. A tattoo of an artist-created design arguably meets these conditions.

As for whether the movie is violating that copyright, it's unclear.

Warner Bros. could argue that the movie tattoo is a parody of the Mike Tyson tattoo, because, as The Hollywood Reporter points out, the character seems to be poking fun at Tyson, who appeared in the The Hangover.

Parody is not copyright infringement.

The studio could also argue that the tattoo isn't an original. The real Mike Tyson tattoo appears to be a representation of the traditional artwork associated with New Zealand's Maori, who have inked similar designs on their faces for centuries.

Whatever the outcome, it's a strange lawsuit, but at least it's rooted in the law.

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