A group of tattoo artists have filed a lawsuit claiming they have ownership of the tattoos of several famous sport stars.

The New York Federal Court is currently examining the case of Solid Oak Sketches v Take-Two Interactive, a video game developing company who created the NBA 2K game. In the game, basketball players LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and DeAndre Jordan are shown sporting their real-life tattoos, all received from Solid Oak Sketches.

It is this realism in the game, however, which is prompting the tattoo artists to take legal action, claiming that the tattoos are copyrighted material that belong to the artists who made them. They argue that playing a song incurs royalties for the creator, and showing representations of art provides the artist with compensation. Why would tattoos be any different?

Philosophy and Medicine students should consider the wider implications of what tattoo artists owning their work means; taking the case of LeBron, it is now arguable that he does not have autonomy over his own body and that the art takes precedence over his right of presentation. The law suit is about a representation of him in a video game, and yet he has no say.

Another factor to consider is the collaborative element; LeBron chose the tattoo and may have had input into its outcome. His body is also part of the artwork – do we see the paint as separate from the canvas when considering other forms of art? Lawyers should consider how ownership and intellectual property rights are used in this case, and History of Art students should explore how tattoos have been conceptualised as both art and vandalism throughout history.

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