Makers of NBA2K sued for using players' tattoos without permission

Makers of NBA2K sued for using players' tattoos (4:11)

ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell discusses the efficacy of the lawsuit against the makers of NBA2K over the tattoos on players such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. (4:11)

A company that owns the right to tattoos on NBA players is suing Take-Two Interactive and Visual Concepts, makers of the popular video-game franchise "NBA2K," for graphically representing those tattoos on NBA players without its permission.

Solid Oak Sketches filed suit on Monday in New York federal court, saying that particular tattoos depicted on players in the recent game NBA2K16 was the company's copyrighted work.

The eight infringed-on designs include a child's portrait and script scrolls with clouds and doves on LeBron James' forearms and butterflies on Kobe Bryant's arm.

Solid Oak Sketches got the copyrights to most of the tattoos last year and, as evidenced by exhibits submitted in the lawsuit, had written letters to the video game company to make an arrangement so that the tattoos could be used in the game. Solid Oak offered to Take-Two a license to the tattoos for $1.1 million.

"It's clear that they knew that this was something that was to be negotiated," said Darren Heitner, whose firm, Heitner Legal, is co-representing the plaintiff.

Calls placed to representatives for Take-Two Interactive were not immediately returned.

This is not the first time a tattoo artist has sued a video-game maker for using his work on an athlete without permission. Tattoo artist Victor Escobedo was awarded $22,500 for his lion tattoo that was portrayed on UFC fighter Carlos Condit without his permission in THQ's "UFC Undisputed" game. Escobedo had originally asked for $4.1 million.

Worried that they might be party to a lawsuit, the NFL Players Association told players in 2014 that, in order for their tattoos to be represented on merchandise, including video games, they needed to get waivers from the artists.

All of Colin Kaepernick's tattoos were subsequently represented in Electronic Arts' "Madden 15" game when Kaepernick got permission from the two artists who did all the work on his body: Nes Andrion of Endless Ink in Reno, Nevada, and Orly Locquiao of Humble Beginnings in San Jose.

Heitner said it is assumed that, without waivers, the tattoo artist is the owner of the work even if it is put on an athlete's body.