Copyright is forever pushing the boundaries of what content be claimed as a person’s own private property – another decade of expanding controls and you won’t be able to think about copyrighted material without someone trying to wrangle money out of you for it. The latest example of copyright gone insane? THQ, the nearly bankrupt makers of UFC Undisputed 1 through 3, have just been sued over the use of a tattoo in their games:
A tattoo artist by the name of Chris Escobedo has filed a lawsuit against THQ over its supposedly unauthorized usage of a tattoo Escobedo designed. Specifically, Escobedo owns the copyright to a tattoo present on the virtual version of MMA fighter Carlos Condit in UFC Undisputed 2010 and UFC Undisputed 3.
Escobedo’s argument hinges on the idea that, despite being permanently affixed to a public figure, the tattoo’s design still belongs to him, as he created it originally and never signed the rights to the design away to Condit. By digitally recreating that design without permission, THQ may have violated Escobedo’s copyright on the work. The lawsuit also claims that THQ’s usage of Condit’s likeness on its website violates Escobedo’s copyright as well.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for “actual damages” caused by THQ’s usage of the artwork, as well as “an order directing THQ to account to Mr. Escobedo for all gains, profits and advantages derived by them by their wrongful conduct, and to disgorge all profits obtained by their wrongful conduct.”
What’s crazy about all this is Escobedo may be in the legal right here. When The Hangover 2 came out, Mike Tyson’s tattoo artist managed to score an undisclosed settlement out of Warner Bros because the movie included a character who got the same tattoo. While the case never made it to court, the judge involved said the tattooist had “strong likelihood of prevailing on the merits for copyright infringement.”
As fucked as that is, there are a number of ways the THQ case is different – first, the Tyson tattoo was featured prominently in a bunch of promotional material for The Hangover 2. Second, the Tyson tattoo is pretty famous, and the movie was obviously playing off that recognition. As for Carlos Condit’s tattoo, I never even realized that mess of ink on his side was a lion until this lawsuit pointed it out. No one gives a shit about his lion tattoo, or its inclusion in the game. It’s gonna be pretty hard for Escobedo to prove anyone knowingly or willfully infringed upon his stupid copyright for profit.
There’s also the fact that THQ is broke, although I dunno if that makes this lawsuit more or less likely to succeed. It might be cheaper to just throw this guy a couple grand to make him go away. Then again, the last thing THQ needs now is the precedent of paying for an Ultimate Fighter’s tattoo. There are probably over a thousand terrible tattoos plastering the bodies of fighters in these games, many of them done by artists who probably wouldn’t mind making an easy 10+ grand off a company that shows itself willing to settle.