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Should Mike Tyson's face tattoo be protected by copyright?

May 25, 2011 |  6:00 am

Should the tattoo design curving around the left eye socket of Mike Tyson be subject to copyright protection? That's the multimillion-dollar question a judge will be considering in a suit against Warner Bros. for the skin ink that adorns Ed Helms' face in "The Hangover: Part II" -- but not before the movie hits theaters on May 26.

S. Victor Whitmill, the tattoo artist who created Tyson’s tattoo in February 2003, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on April 28, claiming that the similar-looking tribal tattoo sported by Helms' character in the sequel to "The Hangover" (which also includes a return appearance by Tyson himself) amounted to copyright infringement, and sought not only damages but also an injunction against the film's release. 

Although U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry declined on Tuesday to halt the scheduled release of the movie -- then just two days away -- the case is far from over, complicated by the fact that, according to some reports, Whitmill claims he explicitly retained a copyright interest in the design he permanently affixed to the boxer's face.

While we're more than happy to let the legal experts hash out the minutae of U.S. copyright law as it applies to tattoo designs prominently inked onto celebrity skin, we also wanted to know where our readers stand on the subject:

Should all tattoo art be protected?  Should the degree of protection hinge on whether or not the bearer of the tattoo is a public or private figure (the way it does in libel law)?  Should no tattoo art be protected?  Or do you think in this particular instance the use is protected as a parody?  And, if it is found to be a copyright infringement, what is it worth?

Post your opinions in the comments section below. Depending on the responses, we may give the topic some more ink.

Just not ink shaped like ... well, you know.

-- Adam Tschorn

Is 'Schmucks' tonsorial trademark infringement?

Photos: More celebrity tattoos

Photo: Mike Tyson, a cast member in "The Hangover: Part II," at the May 19, 2011, premiere in Los Angeles in front of a movie poster depicting actor Ed Helms with a similar style tattoo. The man responsible for Tyson's tattoo has sued Warner Bros. for copyright infringement. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press