Fictional Hangover Precipitates Legal Headache

June 27, 2011

Warner Brother’s The Hangover II features a monkey involved in drug trafficking, an eccentric “stay-at-home son,” and an international criminal with an insatiable appetite for drugs and debauchery.  There is also a very recognizable tribal facial tattoo.  There is at least one person for whom that last detail is no laughing matter.

S. Victor Whitmill is the visual artist who created the Maori-inspired tribal tattoo adorning the face of former champion pugilist “Iron” Mike Tyson.  Whitmill was not pleased to see his work reproduced on the face of actor Ed Helms in The Hangover II without his consent.  His displeasure led him to file a complaint for copyright infringement (2011 WL 2038147) in the United States District Court for Missouri.  The suit has led to a novel legal question regarding the ability to copyright a tattoo.  On May, 24, 2011, Judge Catherine D. Perry denied Whitmill’s preliminary injunction in an oral opinion.  The denial notwithstanding, Judge Perry opined that Whitmill had a “strong likelihood for prevailing on the merits for copyright infringement.” 

Research Referneces:

Articles pertaining to this legal issue may be found on Westlaw in the ALLNEWS database using this Terms & Connectors query: “HANGOVER II” /P COPYRIGHT /P TATTOO

Topical slice databases make searching for facts much easier.  For example, try this simple query in Federal Intellectual Property – Copyright database (FIPC-CS): tattoo (29 results).