Take a good look at Ed Helms’ face. His character’s Maori-style face tattoo in The Hangover Part II is at the center of the lawsuit brought against Warner Bros. by S. Victor Whitmill, the artist who famously painted Hangover co-star Mike Tyson with a similar design. Earlier this week, Warner Bros. told a court that it was preparing to digitally alter Helms’ tattoo for the film’s home-video release, if a settlement with Whitmill could not be reached by that time.
The technology to change the tattoo is not complicated, though it’s not cheap either. But how far will Warner Bros. go with it? Is it just a matter of a slight tweak to differentiate the tattoo from Whitmill’s original work? If so, where is the line exactly that would make Helms’ tattoo no longer derivative? Or will the filmmakers start from scratch, and digitally brand Helms with a totally different mark?
“I’m sure they will change the entire thing,” says Larry Zerner, a Los Angeles-based entertainment lawyer specializing in copyright matters. “Just adding a few tweaks to the existing design will not be enough. The practical problem in this case [for Warner Bros.] is that … the judge reportedly said [the lawsuit] had a strong likelihood of success on the merits, so Warner Bros. is probably not going to risk making a small change and hope that the court rules that was enough. The risks of an injunction are way too high.”
In just 14 days of release, The Hangover Part II has grossed $347 million globally.