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Tattoo artists say 2K should have paid them to include NBA players’ ink in NBA 2K16

A tattoo company has filed a lawsuit against NBA 2K16 developer Visual Concepts, publisher 2K and parent company Take-Two Interactive for the unlicensed use of its artwork in tattoos drawn on the bodies of NBA players. Filed in New York federal court Monday by Delaware-based holding company Solid Oak Sketches LLC, the lawsuit claimed the game violated copyrights for eight tattoos drawn by artists Shawn Rome, Justin Wright and Tommy Ray Cornett, who have worked on LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kenyon Martin, DeAndre Jordan, and Eric Bledsoe, among others. (You can read the full filing here.)

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the tattoos created by Solid Oak Sketches include a “Child Portrait” on LeBron James’ inner left forearm, a crown with butterflies on Kobe Bryant’s right bicep, and a “Script with a Scroll, Clouds, and Doves” on DeAndre Jordan’s right shoulder.

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While similar legal battles has played out before, the legal debate over whether a tattoo artist can charge to license the art found on another person’s body has never been unequivocally settled in court. Artist Christopher Escobedo sued now-defunct publisher THQ for the unlicensed use of a “lion tattoo” on UFC fighter Carlos Condit that was reproduced in multiple entries of the UFC: Undisputed Series. Escobedo was awarded $22,500 in 2012 by the judge presiding over THQ’s bankruptcy, though the decision did not establish a legal precedent.

Prior to filing the lawsuit, the company’s attorneys sent a letter demanding compensation for the use of the tattoos, using the ruling and award from the Escobedo case as a guide. Based on the modified circumstances, including the fact that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are much more visible in both NBA2K16 and real life, the counsel estimated the licenses were worth $819,500, and requested $1,144,000 for a perpetual license fee. 2K has declined that offer.