Mike Tyson's Face Tattoo Lawsuit Could Delay 'Hangover II' Release

Torrie HardcastleContributor IIMay 24, 2011

LOS ANGELES- OCTOBER 26:  Mike Tyson attends the BET 25th Anniversary Show at the Shrine Auditorium on October 26, 2005 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images).
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The infamous face tattoo has stirred up quite a controversy recently, but now the battle is spilling out of the courts and potentially into the box office.

Mike Tyson's tattoo artist, S. Victor Whitmill, filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros.

Studios this month claim that The Hangover II infringed upon his copyright by parodying the tattoo design without his permission. (Ed Helms wakes up with a hangover and a Tyson-esque face tat in the film)

But now, Whitmill has gone a step further, asking for an injunction to prevent the release of The Hangover II until the lawsuit is settled. The film was set to be released this Thursday to take advantage of the holiday weekend.

In hopes of keeping the sequel on track for release, Warner Bros. filed a brief with the courts Friday, laying out their defense against the lawsuit.

According to the court papers, Warner Bros. claims the following as defense against the injunction:

  • Since Tyson made a cameo in the original 2009 film without Whitmill's objection, Warner Bros. has an "implicit license" to use a similar design for Ed Helm's character in the sequel.
  • The case is unprecedented. No one has ever filed a copyright suit against a film for body art.
  • Tyson's tattoo is not copyrightable "because it is not sufficiently original or creative."
  • "Tattoos on the skin are not copyrightable."
  • Whitmill can't own the copyright because Tyson is the owner.
  • According to the Copyright Act and the First Amendment, Warner Bros. use of the design is fair use because it's a parody.
  • An injunction on the film would be a huge financial loss, and would make the film vulnerable to piracy and leaked copies because over 3,600 theaters across the country will be receiving the movie this week.

Whitmill's lawyer filed a brief Monday in response to Warner Bros. defense claims, saying, "Not even Warner Bros. can dispute that original tattoo designs are protected by copyright. They are pictorial works 'fixed in any tangible medium of expression'."

Whitmill is also claiming grounds for his injunction request based on the fact that the tattoo is now being used in advertising and promotional items for the film. (It's even on a Big Gulp at 7-Eleven)

A judge will soon decide whether to grant the injunction or not, and Tyson fans may end up having to wait a while before they'll be able to see their beloved Iron Mike on the big screen once again.

Tyson, however, has remained cool about the whole situation and actually likes the fact that his tattoo (on Ed Helms) ended up on The Hangover II movie poster. 

"I was honored," Tyson said. "It was more profound than my actual face being on it--big time because it symbolizes me."

Hopefully, Iron Mike can be honored by a big box office weekend if the film gets released as planned.