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Take-Two taken to court in copyright lawsuit over in-game tattoos

Developer Visual Concepts and its parent company are being taken to court in a copyright lawsuit over the tattoos depicted in its NBA2K games -- but not by the players who bear them.

Weird bit of news circulating this week, as ESPN reports that Solid Oak Sketches filed suit [PDF] against developer Visual Concepts and parent company Take-Two Interactive for depicting basketball players' actual tattoos in video games without permission from the copyright holder -- Solid Oak Sketches.

It's an intriguing situation for Take-Two, and it's not the first time a developer has been sued for depicting athletes' tattoos without permission. Tattoo artist Victor Escobedo filed a $4.1 million copyright suit against the now-defunct THQ in 2012 alleging that his work on fighter Carlos Condit was used without his approval in UFC Undisputed 3, and was ultimately awarded $22,500.

For its part, Solid Oak Sketches alleges that it holds the copyright to tattoos depicted in Take-Two's basketball games NBA 2K14, 2K15 and 2K16, most notably on players Kobe Bryant and LeBron James (pictured.) 

It further claims that it reached out to Take-Two last summer offering to license the tattoos to the company on either a one-time or ongoing basis, but did not reach an agreement.

"It's clear that they knew that this was something that was to be negotiated," Solid Oak Sketches co-representative Darren Heitner told ESPN.

Now the company is taking the matter to court, noting in its filing that "the issue of tattoo copyrightability has yet to be decided upon in court due to numerous settlements preventing a final judicial opinion" but that it believes (based on statements made by a judge in another, similar case) that tattoos are copyrightable work.

For further insight on the topic, note that attorney Jonathan Sparks (who has experience representing game companies) blogged about this very topic in 2014. 

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