Court Rules NBA 2K Doesn't Need Extra Licensing for LeBron James Tattoos

US court has ruled that the publishing house Take-Two Interactive is allowed to include LeBron's tattoos, as well as tattoos of other basketball players, in its NBA 2K games

by Sededin Dedovic
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Court Rules NBA 2K Doesn't Need Extra Licensing for LeBron James Tattoos
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Not so long ago, an interesting question arose in the American judiciary: should the manufacturers of sports games ask permission from every tattoo artist to use their tattoos on real sports games in those games? The author is harmed if his work is displayed in the game without his permission, and thus the sport is allowed to use his personality? LeBron James' tattoos will remain faithfully reproduced in future NBA 2K games.

A US court has ruled that publisher Take-Two Interactive can include tattoos of LeBron and other basketball players in its games. This is the second lawsuit settled in Take-Two's favor on this matter. As explained by LeBron James himself – he himself can license his look for various things, e.g.

if he appears in a TV commercial, the creators of the TV commercial do not have to ask permission from the creator of his tattoos if LeBron wants to show them. Tattoo artist Jimmy Hayden originally sued the creators of the NBA 2K series in 2016, claiming he had used his designs on LeBron James without permission.

The case was renewed in 2019 with a renewed lawsuit. Now the court has issued a final ruling: the display of tattoos of individual athletes falls under licenses already secured with the NBA and the NBA players' union, to which Take-Two has the rights.

Simply put, no additional payments are required to include individual tattoos in games. This may seem like a clear decision with sound reasoning, but past legal cases have shown mixed outcomes. Two years ago, an Ohio court ruled that Take-Two Interactive must pay $3,750 to a tattoo artist who designed a tattoo for Randy Orton, a wrestler featured in WWE 2K games.

This recent decision establishes a more definitive precedent for Take-Two when it comes to replicating player likenesses, including tattoos, in their NBA 2K franchise. However, it highlights the ongoing legal debate surrounding the depiction of tattoos in video games.

While the use of tattoos associated with a player's character may seem permissible under certain licensing agreements, the issue of ownership and separate compensation for the tattoo designs themselves remains a complex issue.

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