Nightly News | May 22, 2011
Now here's a question: What do you get when you cross a big Hollywood movie , a tattoo artist and Mike Tyson 's face? Well, for one thing, a lawsuit. NBC 's Kerry Sanders explains.
KERRY SANDERS reporting: Mike Tyson , the one-time heavyweight champ of the world, perhaps as well known these days as the guy with that tattoo on his face, a tattoo that shows up in the upcoming movie "The Hangover II." But it's not the ink on Tyson , but rather on that guy...
SANDERS: ...that's the center of controversy. The artist who says he created the original tattoo is now suing the movie producers , Warner Bros. , for copyright infringement. Artist Victor Whitmill claims his design is one of the most distinctive in the nation and when it was created, "Mr. Tyson agreed Mr. Whitmill would own the artwork and thus the copyright." The lawsuit claims Warner Bros. pirated the tattoo and that tattoo is not only central to the story line of the movie , but it's also a big part of the movie 's promotion. Artist Whitmill says he wants an injunction preventing the movie 's release and Whitmill says he's due an award of monetary damages sufficient to compensate for the injuries suffered. Warner Bros .' response, in 149-page filing with the court, the movie 's lawyers argue an injunction just days before the national release on more than 7,000 screens would be devastating.
SANDERS: Tyson and his tattoo were in the first movie and Warner Bros. says the artist never objected over the past two years to the use of Tyson 's tattoo in the first "Hangover" movie . Facial tattoos like this were first inked on Maori warriors' faces centuries ago. Legal experts say this lawsuit raises a new question. When is artwork on the body copyrighted?
Professor PAUL CALLAN (Seton Hall University): US copyright law clearly protects works of art, specifically pictorial and graphic works. A tattoo falls into that category.
SANDERS: The first "Hangover" movie grossed more than $277 million. Now, just a week away from release, it appears "The Hangover II" could have a serious headache. Kerry Sanders , NBC News, Miami.