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Pursuits

Hey, Pro Athletes: Your Tattoo Is Going to Get You Sued

Colin Kaepernick's artistic arm at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans
Colin Kaepernick's artistic arm at Super Bowl XLVII in New OrleansPhotograph by Tom Hauck/AP Images

Four years ago, Christopher Escobedo, a tattoo artist in Phoenix, inked a large tattoo of a lion into the ribcage of a mixed martial arts fighter named Carlos Condit. A year later, the fighter and his lion tattoo appeared in the video game UFC Undisputed. Now the tattoo artist is suing the game’s maker, THQ, for copyright infringement. “It’s an exact replica of my art,” says Escobedo. “That’s like a $5,000 tattoo that I got no recognition for.”

Tattoos are a largely uncharted territory in copyright law. “There’s not really been any cases where this has been litigated by courts,” says Timothy Bradley, an intellectual-property lawyer in North Carolina who has written about tattoos and copyright (PDF). Artists have filed suits such as Escobedo’s before, but they have settled before a court could weigh in on tricky questions about what a person is entitled to do with an image stained into his or her skin.