Missouri Tattoo Artist Sues Over Use of Mike Tyson Tattoo in The Hangover 2

ed helms tattoo.JPG
The tattoo that launched the lawsuit.
An image used in the sequel to The Hangover could leave Warner Brothers with a wicked headache of its own.

Last week a tattoo artist from the south-central Missouri town of Waynesville sued the film studio on claims that it used his copyrighted work in The Hangover 2 without his permission. In the film, actor Ed Helms wears a tribal tattoo similar to the one that graces the face of former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson, who -- coincidentally -- made a cameo in the original Hangover film.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in St. Louis contends that tattoo artist Victor Whitmill was working in Las Vegas in 2003 when he inked the famous image on Tyson's cheek and forehead. Afterward, Whitmill had Tyson sign a release "that all artwork, sketches and drawings related to [his] tattoo and any photographs of [his] tattoo are property of Paradox-Studio of Dermagraphics" (a.k.a. Whitmill's tattoo studio.)

Whitmill now operates Paradox out of a 2,000-square-foot building in Waynesville.

whitmill tyson.JPG
Image obtained through court documents.
Whitmill applies the tattoo on Tyson in 2003.
In court filings, Whitmill asserts that he discovered via movie posters and other promotional material that the studio was using his tattoo image in The Hangover II. His suit asks the court to halt the release of the film until the copyright issue is resolved and award him unspecified monetary damages for injuries suffered. The movie is supposed to arrive in theaters May 26.

An employee at Whitmill's studio referred Daily RFT to his lawyer, Michael Kahn of St. Louis.

A copyright and trademark attorney, Kahn is perhaps best known for defending cartoonist Todd McFarlane (creator of Spawn), who in the early 2000s fought a protracted legal battle against St. Louis Blues enforcer Tony Twist for allegedly using the hockey player's likeness in a comic magazine.

Kahn tells Daily RFT that his client has no beef with Tyson. "This lawsuit is about the copying and reproduction of my client's artwork and placing it somewhere else or on someone else," says Kahn.

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Maybe if they put in an acknowledgement to the artist - then he'd probably get a lot more business.

Craig Schroeder
Craig Schroeder

Can someone explain how protecting the use of original artwork is a blatant money grab?


A blatant money grab.

Is the sort of release Tyson signed standard at all?! If not, it gives me some sort of idea about what kind of person this tattoo artist really is.


Parody. Also, unconscionable contract on the tattoo artist thinking he can own every picture of the tattoo--surprised he's not going after Hangover for share of profits on first movie.


eh. he probably has a reasonable case. two reasons:

(1) outright copying ≠ parody. if Helms just had a very over the top facial tattoo, that would be parody. but to copy the exact same one as Tyson's is not parody. if I imitate an SNL skit in order to make fun of it, that's parody. if I perform an SNL skit, word for word, that's copying.

(2) commercial value of the work, both to the studio and Whitmill. the studio is using Whitmill's art to make a shitton of money, while the uniqueness of Whitmill's style is degraded.

the most likely outcome of all this is a really big settlement in Whitmill's favor to make the whole thing go away. honestly, the studio's lawyers should have known better than to expose them to this liability.

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