Warner Bros. has asked the judge presiding over the Hangover II case not to enjoin (stop) the release of the movie.  (Article here.)  Warner Bros. claims Whitmill, the tattoo artist, would not win on the merits of the case because (amongst other reasons) he did not dispute the tattoo appearing in the first movie and it’s use in the sequel is a parody falling under the fair use defense.  While applying the tattoo on Ed Helm’s face for comedic value in the sequel may be a parody, is it really enough to be considered transformative?  In the 2 Live Crew case regarding Roy Orbison’s song “Pretty Woman,” the court ruled new value was added to “Pretty Woman” by updating the material with a more modern attitude.  Here, the tattoo has been given more comedic value, but it is unclear whether a court would view that as enough to be transformative.   It is also unclear as to what effect the film will have on the market value of the tattoo.  Are people going to flock to tattoo parlors to have their own facial version of this tattoo?  In addition, the entire tattoo was used in the film, which is being released for commercial (i.e. money-making) purposes.  Both of those weigh against a finding of fair use, so it will be interesting to see how the court will rule on fair use grounds.

There is also some discussion about copyrighting tattoos — the artwork is copyrightable, but that doesn’t mean the artist can have control over the tattoo-wearer’s body.  As previously posted, Whitmill has an agreement with Tyson in which Whitmill retains all ownership in the tattoo’s artwork.  I have not seen that document, so my question is — did that document also grant Tyson the right to reproduce, distribute, display and adapt the tattoo; allowing Tyson to use the tattoo in any way he saw fit since, after all, it is on his face? It would be hard for Tyson to not automatically do these things since he is filmed and photographed on a regular basis and the tattoo is freely visible at most times.

This suit is a great way for Whitmill to get some publicity, but why stop the release of a movie that will yield millions of dollars?  If Whitmill’s goal is increased publicity, being the man who stopped the release of a highly-anticipated film would not be the kind of publicity I would want.  Getting a settlement payment with points on the backend would be much more profitable.

Hangover II is set to open next weekend, so a decision should be forthcoming shortly.  Do you think the film’s release will be stopped?   Please let me know your thoughts in the comment thread.

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Erin M. Jacobson is is an experienced deal negotiator and a seasoned advisor of intellectual property rights who protects artists, songwriters, music publishers, and other music professionals. Her clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, independent artists and companies, and distinguished legacy catalogues, as her knowledge of both classic music and current industry practices places her in a unique position to protect and revitalize older catalogues. She handles all types of music industry agreements, with an emphasis on music publishing. In addition to being named a Super Lawyers Rising Star and one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California, Ms. Jacobson is a frequent author and speaker, and has been featured in publications, including Billboard and Forbes. She also is on the Board of Directors for both the California Copyright Conference (CCC) and the Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP).