May 27, 2022

Take-Two, 2K, and WWE Being Sued Over Tattoos

Tattoo artist, Catherine Alexander has filed a lawsuit against the WWE, Take-Two Interactive, and 2K Games over the fair use of Randy Orton’s tattoos.

Courting controversy is nothing new for the WWE.

WWE Chairman, Vince McMahon quintessentially made himself rich off the back of it.

However, that isn’t to say that the company hasn’t gotten in trouble with the law before now. And it seems the WWE is also taking Take-Two and 2K with it.

There has been an ongoing complaint about the fair use of wrestler Randy Orton’s tattoos. As Orton appears in various video games, including WWE 2K20, the tattoos are prominent. And Orton’s tattoo artist, Catherine Alexander, has sued the WWE, 2K, and Take-Two for unfairly using her artwork. Unironically, this isn’t the first time Alexander has raised this issue.

Alexander took the case to an Illinois federal judge recently, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter. The long-and-short of it is that WWE and Take-Two have copied Alexander’s work. However, it is currently uncertain whether it’s actually a case for copyright infringement.

US District Court Judge Staci Yandle, stated;

“Whether the Seventh Circuit recognises this defence to copyright infringement claims is an open question. The defence has been successfully invoked to allow copying of a small and usually insignificant portion of the copyrighted works; not the wholesale copying of works in their entirety as occurred here”.

The obvious way forward also seems to draw a blank. Randy Orton issued a statement that noted how he was unaware that he had to gain further permission [from Alexander] to make his tattoos visible [in other media, such as on TV, or, indeed, in a video game].

To that effect, Yandle added;

“It is unclear whether [Alexander and Orton] discussed permissible forms of copying and distributing the tattoo works, or whether any implied license included sublicensing rights such that Orton could give permission for others to copy Alexander’s tattoo works. Thus, the evidence raises a triable issue of fact as to the existence and scope of an implied license and Defendants’ motion is denied as to this affirmative defence”.

The Judge’s opinion currently is that both the Defence and the Plaintiff have a similar claim when it comes to fair use;

“Alexander contends she created the tattoos for the purpose of displaying them on Orton’s body. The Defendants used the tattoos for the same purpose; to display them on Orton’s body in the video games. Alexander also disputes Defendants’ characterisation of the size of the tattoos. Alexander also maintains they are prominently displayed and clearly visible in the video games. These are material factual disputes”.

Here is the case file for you to peruse if you’re into that sort of thing

Whether or not this is a case of copyright infringement is up for people with more legal nounce than myself. However, surely, a simple solution to all of this would have been for the WWE or Take-Two to have purchased a license for Orton’s tattoos. But, then again, this is the WWE we’re talking about.

We’ll have some possible update on this story when and if it becomes available.


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