“Really it didn’t even matter to me,” said Mr. Flores, who signed a waiver for no compensation. “It was dope to have my tattoos on there.”
Not all tattoo licensing happens so amicably.
At least three lawsuits have been filed against Take-Two Interactive, a game developer and publisher, and a subsidiary, 2K Games. A federal court ruling in any of the cases could have a ripple effect among sports video games, which emphasize realism.
The company Solid Oak Sketches obtained the copyrights for five tattoos on three basketball players — including the portrait and area code on Mr. James — before suing in 2016 because they were used in the NBA 2K series. The following year, an artist sued because the Gloria tattoo on Mr. James, among others, was included in the same franchise. And in April, another artist sued because her tattoos on the wrestler Randy Orton had been included in several iterations of WWE 2K.
Shawn Rome and Justin Wright, two of the three tattoo artists who licensed their work to Solid Oak, said they had been deceived by its founder, Matthew Siegler, and never desired a lawsuit. He approached them with a plan to incorporate their tattoo designs into a clothing line, they said, but it went nowhere.
“He’s just poaching on artists,” Mr. Rome said.
Before filing its lawsuit, Solid Oak sought $819,500 for past infringement and proposed a $1.14 million deal for future use of the tattoos.
Mr. Siegler did not respond to requests for comment. His primary lawyer, Darren Heitner, said that Take-Two used the copyrights without permission, and that Mr. Siegler wanted to be fairly compensated. Peter C. Welch, associate general counsel for Take-Two, said he could not comment on pending litigation. A spokeswoman for 2K Games said it does not comment on legal matters.