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Lawsuit over tattoo threatens release of 'Hangover II'

You know that large, infamous tattoo Mike Tyson has curling around his left eye? It just might sink this week's scheduled release of one of the summer's biggest movies.

The man who created that tattoo is suing the makers of "The Hangover Part II," as well as the Warner Bros. studio, claiming they unlawfully used the tattoo's Maori-inspired design as a gag in the film. The joke is that Tyson appears as himself in "The Hangover" and the sequel. And in "Part II," one of the central characters (played by Ed Helms) wakes up with an identical tattoo around his left eye.

The tattoo artist, S. Victor Whitmill, has gone to Federal District Court in St. Louis seeking to block Warner Bros. from using the tattoo in its posters or in the movie, which would amount to stopping the film from being released. It is due to open Thursday. Whitmill also wants monetary damages for what he calls "reckless copyright infringement" by the studio.

The lawsuit, according to the New York Times, was filed April 28, and will be taken up this week.

The Times quotes several legal experts as saying the lawsuit is not frivolous and could actually wind up setting precedent, in that it centers on whether an artist can copyright something he or she puts on someone else's body. As the Times noted, these questions are "likely to crop up more often as it becomes more common for actors or athletes to have tattoos and as tattoo designs become more sophisticated."

Warner Bros. calls Whitmill's suit a "radical claim" that would put undue hardship on the studio. Tyson, who was not named in the suit, has not commented on the matter.


By Randy McMullen, Contra Costa Times

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