Did you know tattoos could be copyrighted? They absolutely can, and the studio behind NBA 2K16 is in hot water over it.
Solid Oak Sketches is a tattoo studio that owns copyrights on tattoos decorating players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, and the studio is suing 2K over the appearance of that art.
Tattoos, like any other artistic creation, are indeed art and a tattoo artist who copyrights their work gets to command the same legal power as any other artist would if their work was used without permission. It turns out that Solid Oak had offered to license the art for $1.1 million, and 2K decided not to pay them, leading to this suit.
2K is in a weird spot with this one. They’re expected to portray these athletes as accurately as possible, even scanning them in to get the most authentic experience. If they removed the artwork, it might be seen as a less authentic experience. If they leave it in, they have to pay up. In essence, simply having the athletes in the game costs the studio a pretty big chunk of change extra. The athletes might even have contracts that ensure those tattoos are left intact.
As Kotaku notes, this isn’t the first time this has happened. The now-defunct THQ had to pay an artist $20,000 over a tattoo in a UFC game, and Electronic Arts saw the same happen over an NFL athlete’s ink. In each case it’s a different publisher and a different athlete. It seems strange that this keeps happening – the leagues, developers, and publishers should be used to this by now and have plans in place to take care of it – but here we are again.