2K wins lawsuit brought by Lebron James’ tattoo artist

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Take-Two has won a trial brought by a tattoo artist, who had claimed that the use of their work on the likeness of basketball star Lebron James in NBA 2K deserved compensation.

2K Games parent Take-Two successfully convinced an Ohio jury on Friday that it had an implied license to depict James’ tattoos, based on its agreement to use his likeness in the games.

The jury, therefore, determined that tattoo artist Jimmy Hayden’s copyrights had not been infringed.

Take-Two attorney Dale Cendali said that the decision was important for the entertainment industry and “anyone who has ever gotten a tattoo and might have otherwise worried about their freedom to share their bodies with their tattoos.”

Hayden, who has also created tattoos for NBA stars including Shaquille O’Neal and Kyrie Irving, first sued Take-Two in 2017, arguing that Take-Two’s rendering of tattoos that he inked in multiple versions of NBA 2K infringed his copyrights.

Previously, a federal jury in Illinois awarded a tattoo artist $3,750 in damages, after it decided the use of their tattoos on athletes in versions of the WWE 2K games did not constitute fair use.

Although the final amount could be considered relatively small, it set a potential precedent for other tattoo artists to make similar claims if their designs are replicated on athletes in video games.

In 2020, Take-Two won a similar lawsuit in which tattoo company Solid Oak Sketches argued that it owned the copyrights to tattoo designs on NBA stars LeBron James, Kenyon Martin and Eric Bledsoe, which had been recreated in the NBA 2K games without permission.

In that instance, the lawsuit was unsuccessful, with the judge finding that Take-Two had an implied licence to use the tattoos because its NBA deal included players’ likeness rights.

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