The tattoo on LeBron James’s arm might not belong to him.
Tattoos that include a 330 area code on LeBron James and “Crown with Butterflies” on Kobe Bryant are the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit. The firm that purchased the licensing rights from the artists says they control the tattoos while Take Two Interactive Software has been reproducing them in their videos. We could be talking about eight tattoos being worth $819,500.
Where are we going? To the boundaries of intellectual property rights.
Protecting Intellectual Property
Think for a moment about Apple’s logo, the shape of a glass Coca-Cola bottle and McDonald’s Golden Arches. All protected by trademarks, they are a firm’s intellectual property. Similarly copyrights assure authors that they control the books they write and patents convey ownership to inventors.
Sometimes though intellectual property rights can be tricky. The courts said it was okay for the 2nd Avenue Deli to serve an Instant Heart Attack sandwich even though the Heart Attack Grill of Las Vegas claimed the Heart Attack trademark for its burgers. And while Louboutin could trademark its red soles, it could not claim the exclusive right to produce a red shoe.
Below you can see that a Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Yacht Jacket and a Pottery Barn Cameron Roll Arm Sofa could not get intellectual property protection.
Our Bottom Line: The Individual or Society
While market economies depend on secure property rights, there are limits to what we can own and how long. Always we have had to balance inspiring innovation through individual intellectual property ownership and the public’s right to share a good idea.
And now, for a tattoo, a Manhattan judge will again decide that balance.