In 2016, Solid Oak Sketches filed a suit against Take-Two Software for including certain players' tattoos in the NBA 2K video game franchise. The company argued it was copyright infringement since it had signed copyright license agreements with the artists who designed tattoos for James and several other NBA players.
"My understanding is that [my] tattoos are a part of my body and my likeness, and I have the right to have my tattoos visible when people or companies depict what I look like. 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."
Kobe Bryant, Kenyon Martin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are among the other current and former players who have had their Solid Oak Sketches tattoos depicted in NBA 2K games.
James expanded further on his point and said he had never been told by a tattoo artist that he needed permission in order to display his ink:
"In the 15 years since I've been playing professional basketball, this case is the first time that anyone has suggested to me that I can't license my likeness without getting the permission of the tattooists who inked my tattoos. No tattooist has ever told me I needed their permission to be shown with my tattoos, even when it was clear I was a public basketball player."
The case is significant since it could lead to similar lawsuits if Solid Oak Sketches are successful.
Per Gardner, Take-Two Software argued that awarding the plaintiff compensation would lead to a "shakedown" whenever players appear on television.
Despite that claim, a judge denied the defendant's request to dismiss the case in March.
James noted that his tattoos are part of his "persona and identity." He added, "If I am not shown with my tattoos, it wouldn't really be a depiction of me."