WWE has been fighting a legal battle for years that has reached a potential conclusion, and WWE 2K23 might not be the only game to feel its effects.
With far reaching precedent potentially set, this WWE lawsuit could also impact NBA 2K, Madden, and more major sports games.
WWE loses lawsuit against tattoo artist over in-game tattoos
For years, tattoo artists have raised questions about copyright infringement when their artwork is recreated in other forms of media, but for the first time those legal battles have gone their way.
Tattoo artist Catherine Alexander, who did tattoo work on WWE star Randy Orton between 2003 and 2008, filed suit in 2018 against WWE, Take-Two Interactive, 2K Sports, Visual Concepts, and Yuke's over the usage of her work in WWE games.
A ruling issued back in September 2020 initially agreed that WWE and Take-Two copied Alexander's work, for which she holds valid trademarks, but believed WWE had viable defenses they could argue.
Apparently none of those defenses worked, as it took less than three and a half hours for a jury to provide a clear decision in favor of Catherine Alexander and against WWE and Take-Two.
According to reporting by Reuters, WWE and Take-Two must pay $3,750 in damages to tattoo artist Catherine Alexander, but the jury stopped short of awarding any profits from the games in addition.
It's not clear if WWE and Take-Two would consider appealing the verdict at this point, but as of now this new precedent has been established.
WWE 2K23, NBA 2K, Madden, and more games could be impacted
This isn't the first time tattoo artists have raised questions about the use of their own work to make money via recreations in other media.
Questions arose in Hollywood with a lawsuit that was filed in 2011 over the recreation of Mike Tyson's iconic face tattoo in The Hangover 2, but Warner Bros. quickly settled just a few months later.
LeBron James himself sided with Take-Two, saying "I always thought that I had the right to license what I look like to other people for various merchandise, television appearances, and other types of creative works, like video games."
Take-Two Interactive won that lawsuit pretty decisively, and the Judge's opinion stated: "Here, the undisputed factual record clearly supports the reasonable inference that the tattooists necessarily granted the Players nonexclusive licenses to use the Tattoos as part of their likenesses, and did so prior to any grant of rights in the Tattoos to Plaintiff."
Perhaps most interesting at this stage is the following remarks by the judge in that case: “When the Tattoos do appear during gameplay (because one of the Players has been selected), the Tattoos cannot be identified or observed. The Tattoos are significantly reduced in size: they are a mere 4.4% to 10.96% of the size that they appear in real life. … Further, the Players’ quick and erratic movements up and down the basketball court make it difficult to discern even the undefined dark shading.”
While this was a more valid point a handful of years ago, further advancements in graphics and next gen platforms have made tattoo recreations in games almost identical and fully recognizable.
That case ended with the judge finding things did constitute fair use, but the latest jury verdict throws that precedent into question.
Major franchises like NBA 2K, Madden, and more could feel the ripple effects of this ruling as they consider the inclusion of tattoos in future titles.
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