Its incredibly realistic player likenesses have long been considered a key reason for NBA 2K's dominance on the virtual court – but that may change after a group of tattoo artists filed a $1.1 million lawsuit over eight designs featured in NBA 2K16.
LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kenyon Martin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are the 'wearers' of the art in question. Their creators, Solid Oak Sketches, say the designs come under copyright as they “easily satisfy” a standard for originality – James has a child portrait on his forearm while Bryant's bicep is adorned with a crown and butterflies.
If Take Two loses the case it will have two options. One is to pony up further cash in order to retain the licenses to the tattoos for future iterations; the other is to remove them entirely. Should that happen, it throws into question whether other players' trademark ink will also be removed, in order to reduce the risk of further litigation.
Wrestler Chris Jericho's tattoos have been strangely absent from 2K's WWE offerings since 2K15, for what many cite as 'copyright issues' – though Take Two has never publicly discussed the reason behind this change.
Rival sports publisher EA has consistently refused to feature player tattoos in its Madden NFL games because of concerns that it could trigger exactly this type of legal action. A noteable exception is its likeness of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose skin-etchings are featured after the player himself secured permission from the individual artist who drew them.
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