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  • Writer's pictureCassandra L. Wilkinson

About Face: Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is a serious issue and not even the glitz and glamour of Hollywood can escape the seriousness of this matter. On the heels of the Memorial Day weekend release of "The Hangover II", a renowned tattoo artist by the name of S. Victor Whitmill filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. claiming copyright infringement in unsuccessful efforts to halt the premiere of the movie, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. Mr. Whitmill, who is the artist responsible for creating Mike Tyson’s infamous facial tattoo, claims that he has artistic rights to the design and the tattoos likeness was used in the movie without his knowledge or permission. The seemingly innocent plot line depicts Actor Ed Helm’s conservative character “Stu” waking up after a night on the town in Bangkok, Thailand with the Tyson-esque tattoo adorning the left side of his face. The similarities between Tyson’s tattoo and the tattoo portrayed in the film are undeniable. The former boxer himself is in several scenes throughout “The Hangover” and its sequel, “The Hangover II”. Tyson also promoted the movie publically in the weeks and months leading up to the release of the film in theaters. Mr. Whitmill’s camp released the following statement, “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.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tyson did in fact sign a release granting Mr. Whitmill rights to the work and Mr. Whitmill also produced a copyright registration for the “Original Tattoo”. Counsel for Warner Bros. stated in a filing in early June, "If the parties are unable to resolve their dispute, Warner Bros. does not intend to make any use of the allegedly infringing tattoo after the film ends its run in the theaters because Warner Bros. will digitally alter the film to substitute a different tattoo on Ed Helms' face.” Judge Catherine Perry, the same judge who rejected the injunction to stop the release of the movie just days before opening, ordered both parties to meet with a mediator on Friday, June 17th, 2011 to take steps toward settling the issue.
With the mounting connections between Mike Tyson and Ed Helm’s character “Stu”, it became clear during mediation that Mr. Whitmill’s rights were in fact infringed upon. According to the New York Times, Judge Catherine Perry seemed to agree with the decision stating, “Of course tattoos can be copyrighted. I don’t think there is any reasonable dispute about that. They are not copyrighting Mr. Tyson’s face, or restricting Mr. Tyson’s use of his own face, as the defendant argues, or saying that someone who has a tattoo can’t remove the tattoo or change it, but the tattoo itself and the design itself can be copyrighted, and I think it’s entirely consistent with the copyright law.”
With the first four weeks at the box office behind Warner Bros., “The Hangover II” made $177.8 million dollars opening weekend and has broken the record for highest-grossing worldwide debut and highest-grossing R-rated comedy according to
An undisclosed settlement in favor of S. Victor Whitmill was reached Monday, June 20th, 2011. Digitally altering the tattoo for DVD release will not be necessary as part of the agreement reached between both parties.
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