WWE and 2K are being taken to court over the depiction of one wrestler’s sleeve tattoos. The Hollywood Reporter notes that artist Catherine Alexander has challenged these organizations over their use of her tattoo designs, present on the player model of Randy Orton, which marks the first case of a copyright dispute over tattoo art reproduction in a game that has gone to trial.
A federal judge in Illinois has given a partial summary judgment that finds that the WWE 2K game series has copied Alexander’s work, and it will now come down to a jury to decide whether this constitutes copyright infringement. The case centers around six tattoos on Orton’s arms, all of which have been recreated in-game, which Alexander never gave permission to reproduce.
This is not the first time 2K has been to court over tattoos, but when a similar challenge happened relating to NBA 2K, the courts found in favor of 2K. The case was never taken to trial.
You can read the memorandum and order for the WWE 2K case here. “The defense has been successfully invoked to allow copying of a small and usually insignificant portion of the copyrighted works, not the wholesale copying of works in their entirety as occurred here,” Judge Staci M. Yandle writes.
The outcome for this case could have wide-reaching implications for how personal tattoos are handled in games going forward.
There was no traditional WWE game released in 2020, with 2K instead releasing WWE 2K Battlegrounds, an arcade-like title. While his avatar in that game sports sleeve tattoos, they are not an exact match for Alexander’s work.
A new WWE 2K game is planned for 2021.
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