The advertising for The Hangover Part II has gotten some mileage out of the joke of Ed Helms’s character acquiring a face tattoo similar to the one Mike Tyson has at some point during the cast’s misadventures. It’s also a nice call back to Tyson’s cameo appearance in the first Hangover film.
But not everyone is thrilled with the tattoo joke, most especially S. Victor Whitmill. Whitmill is the original artist responsible for Tyson’s distinctive face tattoo and he has filed a copyright infringement suit federal court in Missouri on Thursday against Hangover Part II‘s studio Warner Brothers.
According to the complaint, as quoted in the Hollywood Reporter –
When Mr. Whitmill created the Original Tattoo, Mr Tyson agreed that Mr. Whitmill would own the artwork and thus, the copyright in the Original Tattoo… Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. — without attempting to contact Mr. Whitmill, obtain his permission, or credit his creation — has copied Mr. Whitmill’s Original Tattoo and placed it on the face of another actor … This unauthorized exploitation of the Original Tattoo constitutes copyright infringement.
The injunction asks that the judge orders the halt of the film’s May 26 release.
Warners hasn’t commented on the suit, but they do have a few possible defenses. They could challenge that the original copyright isn’t valid or that the use of the tattoo is “transformative” as it is part of anew, larger work. They may even try to argue fair use through parody. With Tyson having appeared in the first film they certainly can’t claim that the similarity is a coincidence.
The timing of the suit is a bit suspicious though. Promotional material featuring the tattoo have been out fora few months now. Why just a few weeks before the film’s release does this suddenly pop up? It would cost the studio a large sum if they had to postpone the release of the film. Of course, if Whitmill agrees to a settlement, the amount could possibly be less than what a delay would cost. I’m not saying that Whitmill is definitely trying to shake down Warner Brothers, but the timing doesn’t seem to do him any favors.