Who would have ever guessed that the demand for sports games to be more realistic year after year would come to bite NBA 2K publisher 2K Games in the form a tattoo lawsuit?
Yes, 2K Games is facing a lawsuit over Lebron James and Kobe Bryant’s tattoos in the NBA 2K games.
Solid Oak Sketches alleges that 2K Games was well aware that they needed to get licensing rights for these athletes’ tattoos, since they contacted the publisher multiple times over the 1.1 million dollar licensing fee.
This may sound like a crazy, Hail Mary of a lawsuit, but it isn’t. As current copyright laws stand in the United States, tattoo companies and artists actually retain the copyright for the tattoos they put on people, including professional basketball players that license the right to use their image in video games. In other words, while Lebron and Kobe agreed that 2K Games could use their images for NBA 2K, the ink on their bodies is not included in that agreement.
The NFL Players Association set a precedent in 2014, telling their players for licensing purposes, companies using their likeness, including video games, needed to get permission and/or licensing from the tattoo companies that own the tattoos.
This isn’t the first time a tattoo company has sued a video game, and the precedent set by the original lawsuit doesn’t bode well for 2K. In 2009, tattoo artist Victor Escobedo successfully sued THQ for recreating his tattoo on UFC fighter Chris Condit for UFC Undisputed. Escobedo originally asked for 4.1 million, but the courts lowered this down to a mandated $22,500, which was the same amount they paid Condit for his image.
However, not mentioned here is that 2K has an out they could use, at least in the future. 2K is just as capable of recreating similar tattoos on the players that don’t constitute copyright infringement. All that remains to be seen is how they will actually handle this case now.