You may have heard that WWE and 2K are being taken to court over an issue with tattoos, but why? It’s a bit of a struggle to get your head around it, because not only is a game publisher being taken to court, the WWE federation is actually being taken to court too.
The issue stems from the appearance of one wrestler’s tattoo sleeve. Artist Catherine Alexander has challenged both organisations over the use of her designs, which are currently present on the player model of Randy Orton. This marks the first case of copyright dispute in a game to ever make it to trial. Specifically it relates to the recreation of that tattoo for purposes in the game.
Interestingly this isn’t the first time that 2K has been taken to court over the use of tattoos. Something similar happened with NBA 2K, but courts favoured the publisher then, so the case never made it to trial.
The memorandum of the case explains that it’s usually allowed that a developer or publisher can copy a small portion of an artist’s works for use in their game. This part is usually insignificant, but doesn’t include the copying of the entire work outright. Clearly the entire sleeve has been copied, which you’d expect in a game where half the dudes are topless at the best of times.
Clearly the tattoo artist put some serious hours into their designs. To a degree, it’s the equivalent of taking a modern piece of art and replicating it in your game without crediting or paying the artist. It’s plagiarism, and that’s definitely not okay. Artists rely on their work making money in order to continue doing what they love, but if game companies are suddenly allowed to copy tattoos wholesale, then what’s to stop film makers doing the same? For that matter, does that mean that tattoo artists even have a right over their work if it can be copied?
This legal battle is going to get messy. Both of the companies involved have a lot of money to throw at the case, but I think that we’ll start to see more artists sticking up for their community here, and could see a movement that shifts the paradigm of how tattoos are used in media forever.