NBA 2K Makers Sued Over Use of Player’s Tattoos

By Patrick Barron,
Sports Business Writer

As the annual All-Star Weekend, approaches for the National Basketball Association, one issue will be on some players mind as they prepped to partake in some of the many activities during that time. Who owns the rights to their tattoo representation in video games?

Take-Two Interactive and Visual Concepts, the creators of the popular NBA video-game series, “NBA 2K”, was sued over their use of some player’s tattoos in the latest title, NBA 2K16. The game remains ahead of its competition in part of its maker’s attention to detail, that includes tattoos. Video games graphics improved yearly to the point where it is becoming harder to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Solid Oak Sketches, the group that sued the companies, claims it owns the rights to some of the tattoos featured on some on the game’s players. Previously, they contacted the creators of the game to negotiate a deal so they can use player’s tattoos in the game and wanted the company to pay a 1.14 million dollar licensing fee.

In their lawsuit, the group wants the game maker to pay for damages and if they win the case, they want to stop the sales of NBA 2K16.

What makes this case even more interesting is that Solid Oak Sketches is not the first to sue over the use of athlete’s tattoos. For example, in the Toy Headquarters (THQ) game, UFC Undisputed, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter, Carlos Condit’s tattoo was included the game without the tattoo artist permission. As a result, Victor Escobedo, the artist sued the video game maker and won a sum for his troubles.

A debate will sure arise from the lawsuit that will attempt to answer any questions regarding artwork in video games. If Solid Oak Sketches is successful in their lawsuit, will that open the floodgates for others to sue for damages? How about other leagues such as the National Football League, and Major League Baseball?

It turns out that the NFL was ahead of the curve with its Players Association taking the first step to protecting the league and themselves. In the highly popular Electronic Arts “Madden NFL” series, players have to get waivers from their tattoo artists. If the player in question fail to do so, their tattoos will not be in the game.

A prime example of the NFL Players Association move is the case of the popular quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick’s tattoos. He has numerous tattoos and had waivers from the tattoo artists, allowing their artwork to be included in the game. Subsequently, in the latest NFL Madden game, “Madden 15”, all of his tattoos are included.

Time is the deciding factor in this case and fans would be most hurt because their favorite players are not represented accurately in the game.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 9th print edition.

Contact Patrick at


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