Mike Tyson tattoo artist suing Hangover 2 producers?
Artist S. Victor Whitmill, the creator and designer of former heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson’s facial tattoo, is suing Warner Bros. over a similar tattoo design planted on actor Ed Helms’ face in the upcoming movie Hangover 2. In the suit, Whitmill seeks an unspecified amount in damages and seeks also an injunction to block the opening of Hangover 2 over Memorial Day weekend.
Whitmill calls the tattoo design “one of the most distinctive tattoos in the nation,” according to Reuters:
“When Mr. Whitmill created the Original Tattoo, Mr Tyson agreed that Mr. Whitmill would own the artwork and thus, the copyright in the Original Tattoo,” argues the complaint, filed Thursday in federal court in Missouri.
But there is a catch. Mike Tyson appeared in the original Hangover film, and it remains to be seen if the tattoo design (which is not exact) is fair use as a parody, given Tyson’s multiple appearances in the first film. Whitmill has sent pictures of him doing the work on Tyson’s face along with documentation with Tyson’s signature that show Whitmill does in fact own the copyright to the tattoo. But Whitmill didn’t ask for compensation when Tyson appeared in the first Hangover film, so what’s the difference now, even if he owns the copyright?
Warner Bros. has declined to comment, although Warner Bros. did in the past pay out a hefty sum to release The Dukes of Hazzard, when a judge issued an injunction just weeks before, regarding the authorship of the source material involved. Will the same thing happen to Hangover 2?
Comments on TMZ and E! Online suggest that most people feel Whitmill is overreaching. He may own the copyright, and it may come down to a technicality, since the tattoos are indeed remarkably similar. However, the sentiment seems to be that everyone already knows that the tattoo is a parody and that the original design is printed on Tyson. That said, the artwork itself takes no special role in the film except as it is used to parody the Tyson role in the previous film.
So, what do you think? Is it fair use? Should Warner Bros. have to pay? Is Whitmill just looking for a quick paycheck?