Mike Tyson poses alongside a poster for The Hangover Part II at the premiere last week in Los Angeles. Photo / AP
About a month ago, Techdirt reported the seemingly absurd case of the tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill suing Warner Brothers over their parodistic use of his design for Mike Tyson's facial tattoo in The Hangover Part II. The first thought to cross my mind was: parody = fair use; the second thought was: the tattoo artist is ripping off Tā moko from the Māori. Indeed, it looks like another case of an artist *believing* their work is 'original' when in fact it's not even close. As a commenter on Techdirt's latest post on the suit notes:
People often speak of copyright infringement as being a form of "theft", but taking from the public domain while claiming exclusive ownership is a lot more like theft than is copyright infringement.
In short, the guy is a hypocrite and a thief.
5:30 AM Wednesday May 25, 2011
The man who created Mike Tyson's Maori-inspired facial tattoo is trying to delay the much awaited comedy The Hangover: Part II after claims the film-makers copied his art without asking.
The artist has struck a raw nerve in New Zealand, where people are asking what right he has to lay claim to a Maori design in the first place.
The problems started when one of the key characters in the upcoming comedy appeared with a similar-looking tattoo to the one Tyson has above his eye.
Award-winning tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill said that he retained ownership of the design of Tyson's tattoo - which he describes as "one of the most distinctive tattoos in the nation" - and Warner Bros breached copyright by not asking to replicate it in the film.
He has now filed an injunction to try to stop the film's release but New Zealand experts question Mr Whitmill's right to claim ownership.
Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, author of Mau Moko: The World of Maori Tattoo, described Mr Whitmill's claims of ownership as insufferable arrogance. "It is astounding that a Pakeha tattooist who inscribes an African American's flesh with what he considers to be a Maori design has the gall to claim ...
that design as his intellectual property," she said.
"The tattooist has never consulted with Maori, has never had experience of Maori and originally and obviously stole the design that he put on Tyson.
"The tattooist has an incredible arrogance to assume he has the intellectual right to claim the design form of an indigenous culture that is not his."
On Twitter, many questioned Mr Whitmill's claim, with National MP Tau Henare weighing into the debate, saying: "The tattooist moaning about the breach of copyright copied it off Maori. Bit rich to be claiming someone stole his 'design'."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, paperwork was filed in a federal court in Missouri last week saying Mr Tyson agreed at the time his tattoo was created that Mr Whitmill would own the artwork and thus, the copyright.
Warners has declined to comment on the suit.