Solid Oak Sketches, a company who designs tattoos whose designs are adorned on multiple athletes including LeBron James, is suing the makers of the NBA 2K for copyright infringement for including their tattoo designs and thus, intellectual property, in the video game. 2K Sports, trying to make things as realistic as possible, incorporated tattoos on NBA players because they actually have those tattoos.
According to SportTechie, a court order caused the lawsuit to move forward and Solid Oak is claiming that because 2K didn’t get permission, aka pay them money by means of a licensing fee, 2K is in violation of copyright law and is using their intellectual property for their games.
This opens up a potential Pandora’s Box of “what if’s” if Solid Oak somehow wins this case. This would not only mean that 2K Sports would have to pay a fee to each tattoo designer to use tattoos for every player on every team, it would also technically mean that LeBron’s advertisers might have to pay Solid Oak if his tattoos are shown in any form of advertising.
But as it’s pointed out, one law that is firmly in 2K’s corner is that the tattoos may fall under copyright fair use. In layman’s terms, it’s going to be tough for Solid Oak to prove that their tattoos being depicted in an NBA video game would hurt their business nor prove that 2K is using the tattoos as a means of advertising the game. The tattoos may be within the advertising itself but 2K Sports isn’t specifically marketing Solid Oak’s tattoos and no one is going to buy NBA 2K18 purely for LeBron’s tats.
So because of that, Solid Oak’s case doesn’t seem that strong but you can never tell with the Justice system. Personally, I would imagine that once you put your tattoo on another person, they have a say in how that tattoo should be portrayed in public. And if 2K wanted to use that tattoo for that person, on the body part that tattoo is actually on, as long as they have the rights for the player to be in the game, the tattoo can be in the game. If 2K were to take that same tattoo and make it available for people to use when creating a player, then I can see a scenario where Solid Oak deserves some sort of licensing fee. But until that happens, 2K Sports seems to be in the clear in my eyes.