Artist sues 'Hangover Part II' over Tyson tattoo


Image Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon

S. Victor Whitmill, the tattooist who gave boxer Mike Tyson his Maori-inspired facial tattoo, filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. that might disrupt the release of one of this summer’s biggest films. In The Hangover Part II, after another bacchanalian episode leads to a another case of amnesia, Stu (Ed Helms) wakes up with a tattoo just like Tyson’s. Whitmill is claiming copyright infringement and said in the lawsuit, as quoted by the New York Times, that he’s “never been asked for permission for, and has never consented to, the use, reproduction or creation of a derivative work based on his original tattoo.”

On Friday, Warner Bros. responded in court, saying that any delay in the film’s release would represent an enormous financial burden, and that Whitmill’s claim has no legal precedent. The studio is also relying on the ‘”fair use” defense, claiming that their treatment of the famous tattoo is a form of parody. But Whitmill’s case might be bolstered by a statement from Tyson, who appears in both Hangover films, agreeing that “all artwork, sketches and drawings related to my tattoo and any photographs of my tattoo are property” of Whitmill.

Tyson, it turns out, was initially unaware of the film’s tattoo gag, Helms told EW at last week’s Hollywood premiere: “His reaction to the tattoo is in the movie because they did not prep him or me beforehand. As his arrival on set was imminent, it became clear that no one had told him about the tattoo bit, and I was actually worried he’d be mad at me and the switch would flip, But he was so cool about it. He is misunderstood. He’s like the nicest man. He couldn’t be cooler so it was a little anti-climactic.”

(Reporting by Carrie Bell)

Read more:
Zach Galifianakis: ‘My mom is not allowed to see ‘Hangover 2′
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Comments (124 total) Add your comment
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  • anonymous

    I am with the tattoo artist on this one.

    • anonymous

      Funny thought … They may have to blur the tattoo out on Helm’s face. Or change it frame by frame.

    • kgb

      That’s what they get for not creating an original movie and relying upon sequels all the time. They copy and rehash everything.

      • @ kgb

        Ding Ding Ding!

    • KEVIN

      Oh please! Can’t believe Tyson is biting the hand that fed him his newfound notoriety as a decent guy, guess Helms is wrong.

      • anonymous

        How is Tyson “biting” the hand. He is being a sport about the whole thing. It is the tattoo artist that is seeking damages.

      • Cal

        Tyson,biting, really?

      • Anon

        Not only that. Did you happen to read how all the other stars received an huge payout increase from 200k to 5h3 5M range, while Mike only went from 100k to 200k? Granted hes not playing a major part in the movie, but look at the huggggggggggge discrepency in increase there. Hes not biting anything. And it wasnt that first movie that rehased him as a nice guy. He has done many things since to change reinvent himself.

      • mrx16

        more like biting the ear, AM I RIGHT?

      • Ryan


        Your numbers look a little funny and I’m not completely sure how to read that.

        That said the big point here is the STARS of the film got a huge pay increase, Tyson has an extended cameo in the film and his pay still got doubled. That seems pretty freaking fair for just a little work.

    • coachbags

      You know, very popular this summer clothes? ” ww w.styshops.c om “. AF, t-shirts, as long as the $12, still not quick action. cool..go.go..

    • pie thrower

      I am as well. It is the artwork of the Tatoo artist. If Helms had Mickey Mouse on his face, you can bet Disney would be expecting to get paid.

      • Mike

        Disney defends its copyrighted characters. Vigilantly and brutally. This guy let the tattoo appear in The Hangover and never said a peep. By doing that, he waived any claim he might have had.

      • Brad

        Tyson paid the guy for the tattoo. Using the first sale doctrine, the tattoo artist would not be able to successfully sue Tyson for displaying something that he legally bought.

        Further, not suing person A in year X is not a waiver of your ability to sue person B in year Y. These are two different claims. If he had a legitimate case against Tyson for the tattoo appearing in “The Hangover” (which I don’t think he did), he doesn’t have to sue Tyson in order to maintain his copyright. Just because he chose not to sue Tyson for infringement does not mean he waives all potential future claims against other infringers.

      • Ryan

        He allegedly just filed the copyright a month or two ago, so this is a clear cash grab on his part. I hope this guy fails from here on as people who file stupid lawsuits like this deserve to fail. It’s crap like this that makes a joke of this country’s legal system.

    • Mike

      If you’re with the tattoo artist on this one, then you’re just wrong. If you own a copyright it is your responsibility to defend it. Letting the tattoo appear in the first Hangover movie without defending it causes him to forfeit his right to claim damages now.

      So in the unlikely event that he had a case in the first place, he has none now.

      • Jared

        Its because the 1st hangover was a box office success so the tattoo artist is try to get him some cash.

      • Deni

        Wouldn’t the tattoo be public domain since it’s on a public figure who is being made parody of… the Mike Tyson chief distinguishing feature is his tattoo on his face and you don’t need permission to parody that. If i got a tattoo of anything on my face it would be made fun of and compared to Mike… if it was on his back or thigh on the other hand… no one would say a thing.

      • jeffdg

        i think mike is “right on the money.” the artist let the first hangover slide, which disney would never do, so now it’s time to bite the bullet!

      • max

        In the first movie, the tattoo was bought and paid for. This is a copy of his work and he wasn’t compensated. I’m with the tattoo artist on this one.

    • Bobby

      I’m not with the artist. It’s an unoriginal piece of flash artwork ripped off from Maori warriors. It’s not an original design, it’s common flash you can get in any tattoo shop. Give me a break.

  • Ems

    How did they not catch this until now? Someone’s about to be fired…

    • John

      It’s a shakedown. You wait until the week before it’s supposed to premiere and then bring the lawsuit so that they are pressed to give you money or not be able to open on time.

    • George

      this lawsuit has been in the works for some time now. (like 3 or 4 weeks)

  • KS

    This reminds me of the lawsuit Fox News slapped on Al Franken when he used their copyrighted phrase “Fair and Balanced” in the title of his book as a joke, and Fox News were laughed out of court. It came down to First Amendment precedents; the use of the tattoo as parody might fall under Freedom of Expression.

    • Gretchen

      It’s not a freedom of expression – its an affirmative defense. Yes, we violated the copyright, but we have a valid reason. Here, the reason is a parody, a legit use of the copyrighted work under the fair use doctrine.

  • Tim @rural_juror

    Really? Over a tattoo? REALLY?

    I hope WB’s team of highly paid lawyers scares this mooch off.

  • jennifer

    This is ridiculous. This guy is just looking for money.

    • max

      Um, duh.

  • Ashley

    Wouldn’t the guy have had to copyright the tattoo or something for this to be valid?

    • TG

      I’m pretty sure he did copyright and/or trademark the tattoo design. Also pretty sure he raised the issue weeks ago as I remember reading about this before now.

    • why?

      Copy rights are obtained at the instance of creation these rights give you the right to file for a registration of these rights for particular material which is the general understanding of copyright. In this case their is no dispute on who the creator and there for copyright holder is. But don’t mistake this as support for the tattoo artist who I’m sure has done enough sailor joe (famous highly replicated tattoo artist) birds and skulls to pay for that guys resurrection. But I think he’s a totally shake down artist dbag. I want to see this movie!

      • JC

        It’s “Sailor Jerry” not “Joe”. But I agree with the rest.

    • Berlynn

      So excited I found this article as it made things much qikuecr!

  • Peter

    I’d argue it falls in the realm of parody.

    • Winona

      Me, too – fair use covers parodies. Otherwise, Weird Al would never be able to afford to release any music!

      • anonymous

        Weird Al requests permission and refuses to do a parody if permission is not granted.

      • ahem

        @ anonymous: while weird al does give the courtesy of formal request (according to him) legally all works are produced under fair use as a parody or derivative work don’t all sassy about something you obviously don’t understand.

      • Minvike

        @anonymous – that may be true, but it is irrelevant. Even if Weird Al does NOT get permission, he can legally still do it if he wants to, and the original artist can’t do a thing about it. It’s parody which is 100% legal and does not violate copyright laws in any way. Weird Al may get permission as a courtesy, but he doesn’t need it.

      • Carlos

        weird al does not always ask. coolio got really mad at amish paridise.

      • scott

        … and i got really mad at coolio when he used stevie wonder’s “past time paradise”!

      • KD

        Regarding the Coolio comment–Coolie may not have owned the rights to that song–his label or publisher may have granted permission. Lots of times artists don’t actually have 100% ownership of their creations–depends on their contract.

      • Peter

        “Weird Al requests permission and refuses to do a parody if permission is not granted.”

        Yes he does, but because he’s a swell guy, not because he legally has to.

  • Hmm

    As frivolous as this lawsuit sounds there may be a secondary reason for both parties to bring this up now. The artist would AGAIN get attention for his art and the discussion of the movie would become even more familiar since people would talk about this being such a silly movie to be sued for such a silly reason. Therefore on memorial weekend when we finish watching/talking about those who have gave their lives and start trying to think of some levity…Hangover Part Two is our first thought.

  • Monty

    the only way that this holds up is if the tattoo artist was paid every time a still image of tyson’s face was sold to the media. Even if he was getting something for every picture, he will still likely loose based on ‘fair use’. I bet they settle this for less than what the studio would have to pay if this went to litigation.

    • KD

      If the tattoo artist created the piece and they copied it exactly (or closely enough to be clearly derivative) then he has a claim. The claim is that he lost the money he’d have made to reproduce the tattoo himself as the artist and be paid for the job. It’s not about getting paid for every additional appearance of the tattoo on the body of the person it’s tattooed on.

  • Miss Talk

    Well, the tattoo artist has a rent to pay. In this era, a lot of Hollywood actors are getting paper just for sitting pretty and mumbling their dialogues. I would have filed a lawsuit too (I was not talking about The Hangover, I loved the first movie and I’m going to see this one as well).
    This is pocket money for Warner Bros. Show him the money! *Jerry Maguire’s voice*

  • Blah

    I think it’s really silly to sue over the tattoo. I mean seriously if I walked into a tattoo parlour and said “Give me the Mike Tyson tattoo” would I then be sued because I didn’t contact the original artist. C’mon it’s fair game.

  • Jay

    I’m just waiting for the Maori to sue the tattoo artist for ripping off their cultural artwork…lol

    • guest

      Totally! The “artist” originally got his “art” from the Maori people! They were outraged at Tyson’s tattoo because in Maori culture you have to earn the facial tattoo, it’s not just something you get because you think it looks cool. What a jerk.

  • tony

    What a convenient controversy! Just when the film is about to open…

  • Adam

    The tattoo is a parody of Mike Tyson’s tattoo. You don’t hear the studio responding or asking permission because parody doesn’t require permission and is therefore not copyright infringement. Plus if the artist copied “Maori culture” design he can’t copyright it anyways.

    • Rick

      Is it still parody if the Ed Helms character is not portraying Mike Tyson?

  • abadstroller

    Has the tattoo artist been paying royalties to the Maori people for use of their cultural property? If so (eye roll), he could sue Warner Bros. Otherwise, it looks like he has no case if the tattoo use in the sequel as satire or parody. Tattoo guy can still get some $$$ when people come in asking for the Tyson or “Hangover” tattoo. And then Warner Bros. can sue him right back….

    • Annie

      Exactly. I thought the same thing. Where are the royalties the tattoo artist owes the Maori people? He trademarked an indigenous “design” that has been on many Maori warriors for thousands of years? Get real. Talk about greedy idiots.

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