20 March 2020TrademarksSarah Morgan

WWE can’t escape tattoo artist’s copyright claim

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and video game maker Take-Two Interactive Software have failed to escape a suit brought by a tattoo artist who claimed that her copyright was being infringed in a video game series.

On Wednesday, March 18, Judge Staci Yandle of the US District Court for the Southern District of Illinois found that tattoo artist Catherine Alexander owned copyright in all but one of a world champion wrestler’s tattoos and allowed the claims to proceed.

Alexander, who has tattooed professional wrestler Randy Orton, had accused WWE and Take-Two of featuring the tattoos on Orton in the “WWE 2K” video games. She filed her suit in April 2018 at the US District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

Between 2003 and 2008, Alexander allegedly tattooed several original designs on Orton, who is a 13-time world champion professional wrestler for WWE.

Her tattoos include an upper back tribal tattoo and sleeve tattoos consisting of a Bible verse design, a dove, a rose, and skulls.

Back in 2009, Alexander contacted WWE about the reproduction of Orton’s tattoos on various items for sale by the WWE, which offered her $450 for extensive rights to use and reproduce the tattoo designs on its products, according to the suit.

But Alexander declined the offer and told WWE she didn’t grant it permission to reproduce her designs. She subsequently submitted applications to register copyright on the tattoos in March 2015.

WWE had attempted to dismiss the suit, claiming a lack of personal jurisdiction and that Alexander had failed to state a claim for copyright infringement.

Earlier this week, Yandle rejected WWE’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, agreeing with Alexander that her “communications with WWE, coupled with WWE holding live promotional events and selling the video games in question to residents in Illinois establish that WWE expressly directed its activities toward Illinois”.

WWE and Take-Two had also argued that Alexander failed to state a claim for copyright infringement because she didn’t hold certificates of registration for the tattoos which is a prerequisite to filing suit and her amended complaint was “impermissibly vague”.

Five of Alexander’s tattoos were registered before she filed her complaint, but the US Copyright Office did reject her application for the Bible verse tattoo on the basis it lacked the authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.

“Accordingly, because plaintiff does not have proper registration for the Bible verse tattoo, defendant’s motion to dismiss is granted as to the Bible tattoo and denied as to the remaining five tattoos,” said Yandle.

The judge went on to reject WWE and Take-Two’s contention that Alexander’s complaint was “impermissibly vague”, finding that her allegations were sufficient to meet pleading requirements.

Yandel added: “Dismissal for failure to state a claim is proper only if the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of her claims which would entitle her to relief. There are sufficient factual allegations in plaintiff’s amended complaint to allow her claims to proceed against the defendants as to the remaining five registered tattoos.”

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