Digital Life
6:27 pm
Sun August 24, 2014

For The First Time, Real Tattoos Make Their Madden Debut

Originally published on Sun August 24, 2014 7:13 pm

The NFL season is looming, and with it comes the new version of the Madden NFL video game — a franchise that has sold more than 100 million copies over the last 25 years.

Each year, Madden gets more and more realistic. "The NFL superstars definitely look like their real life counterparts would," says Samit Sarkar, a reporter for the gaming website Polygon.

But Sarkar says tattoos have long been an exception to that realism. And when the new version of Madden is released on Tuesday, the game will include one notable addition: the tattoos of Colin Kaepernick, the young starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

In real life, Kaepernick is covered in tattoos on his chest, back and arms. In the newest Madden, the digital Kaepernick sticks out in a sea of bare arms along the line of scrimmage, because he is the only character in the game displaying his real-life tattoos.

These days, tattoo artists for athletes have started to pay more attention to their rights. And those worries aren't necessarily frivolous, says Tim Bradley, an intellectual property attorney. He says copyright law is actually very friendly to the artist, and that protections kick in once you've shown a "modicum of creativity" in your design and you've put it on a "tangible medium."

"So that could be paper, or film, or what have you," Bradley says. "And you automatically own the copyrights in that."

But with tattoos, the "medium" is the person you tattooed. So while you might own the copyright to your design, the recipient still owns their body, Bradley says.

"So they own the copy of your work," he says, "and so the thorny question comes in ... What happens when additional copies are made?"

A copy, in this case, means a re-creation of the tattoo — like in a video game, for instance. A more famous example was the parody of boxer Mike Tyson's face tattoo in the movie The Hangover Part 2, when Ed Helms' uptight dentist character wakes up to find his own face now has a copy of Tyson's famous and distinctive facial tattoo.

The artist who did the original tattoo sued, since he was never asked for permission for his work to appear on someone else's face. Warner Brothers eventually settled.

Cases like this explain the growing caution on the part of athletes and game developers alike. Last year, the NFL Players Association advised players to preemptively acquire all the rights to their tattoos.

Nes Andrion is the artist who did many of the tattoos for Colin Kaepernick's. He runs a tattoo shop in Reno called Endless Ink, and says business has been booming since Kaepernick started doing his signature bicep kisses on national TV.

Andrion has gotten used to seeing his designs everywhere that Kaepernick and his famous body art appear like newspapers and magazine covers. And those tattoos were on full display in a Yahoo fantasy football commercial featuring Kaepernick shirtless and sitting in a tattoo parlor, surrounded by three tattoo artists (not Andrion) working away with their needles.

With lawsuits over tattoo use looming, it's no surprise that Kaepernick's agent sought out Andrion's permission before that commercial aired.

"I'm supposed to be in that commercial. You know what I mean? It's my work that they're showing," Andrion says.

Andrion says he had mixed feelings about signing the waiver, and that he hasn't received anything in return for signing. But he says working with Kaepernick has been a good thing for him overall.

And once Kaepernick and his agents had the rights to the tattoos on his body, he was free to extend those to the Madden franchise.

So if you're planning to pick up a copy of the newest Madden next week, try this out: Pick the 49ers as your team, send your QB in for a rushing touchdown and watch as Kaepernick gives his signature bicep kiss. You'll see the Nes Andrion tattoo faithfully recreated on his digital arm.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

If you've just tuned in, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Tess Vigeland. If you're ready for some football, well, the NFL season is just a couple of weekends away and with it the new version of "Madden." Each year, the latest edition of the only official NFL videogame tries to be more and more realistic whether it's the commentary or the gameplay.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "MADDEN NFL 15")

VIGELAND: Or even the touchdown dances. But the game has never displayed players real-life tattoos until now. NPR's Becky Sullivan explaines.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Samit Sarkar has been playing "Madden" for more than 20 years. Now he's a reporter for the gaming website Polygon. He says the franchise has made realistic visuals a huge priority.

SAMIT SARKAR: NFL superstars definitely look like their real-life counterparts would. I mean, you'd be able to look at their face in game and go, oh, man, that's Eli Manning.

SULLIVAN: But tattoos have long been an exception. Some old versions had generic tattoos Sarkar says, but no player has ever had their real ink appear in the game until now.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "MADDEN NFL 15")

COMMENTATOR: And here is quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

SULLIVAN: In real life, Colin Kaepernick, the young starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49er's is covered in tattoos - his chest, his back, his arms. In the newest "Madden," the computerized Kaepernick sticks out like a sore thumb in the sea of bare arms along the line of scrimmage because he is the only character in the game displaying his real-life tattoos.

Tim Bradley is an intellectual property attorney. I asked him why some videogame makers have been so cautious. He explained to me that copyright law is actually very friendly to tattoo artists. All they have to do to get the protection of the law is use a, quote, "modicum of creativity in the design" and put it on a, quote, "tangible medium."

TIM BRADLEY: So that could be paper or film or what have you. And you automatic own the copyrights to that.

SULLIVAN: With tattoos, the medium is the person they've tattooed. But it's tricky. While the artist definitely owns the copyright to their design.

BRADLEY: The recipient certainly owns their body. So they own a copy of your work. And so the thorny question comes in about what happens when the additional copies are made.

SULLIVAN: Meaning a recreation of the tattoo. Like, say a videogame version of it or more famously this bit from the movie, "The Hangover Part II."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HANGOVER PART II")

SULLIVAN: The guys have just woken up from their black out night.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HANGOVER PART II")

ED HELMS: (As Stuart Price) This is a real tattoo.

SULLIVAN: In a nod to Mike Tyson's role in the first "Hangover" movie, Ed Helms's uptight dentist character wakes up to find his own face now has a copy of Tyson's famous and distinctive facial tattoo. But the tattoo artist was never asked for permission for his work to appear on someone else's face. So he sued. And Warner-Brothers settled. No surprise the NFL Players Association started advising players to acquire the rights to their tattoos, especially players like Colin Kaepernick whose real tattoos have become a signature part of his on-field persona.

NES ANDRION: And especially the one that, you know, the one that makes the pictures, you just go for that bicep and kiss that.

SULLIVAN: This is Nes Andrion, he's the artist who made the tattoos on Kaepernick's bicep. He runs a tattoo shop in Reno called Endless Ink. He says business has been booming since Kaepernick started doing all those bicep kisses on national TV. Andrion's gotten used to seeing his designs everywhere that Kaepernick and his famous body art appear. Newspapers, magazine covers. It was no surprise to see the tattoos star in a yahoo fantasy football commercial.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)

COLIN KAEPERNICK: Oh, hey Colin Kaepernick here.

SULLIVAN: In the commercial, Kaepernick is shirtless sitting in a tattoo parlor surrounded by three tattoo artists working away with their needles. Nes Andrion's work on Kaepernick's chest and arms is on full display.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)

KAEPERNICK: Wow, this says I'm the fancy QB of the future. Let's write that in somewhere.

SULLIVAN: With lawsuits over tattoo use looming, it's no surprise that Kaepernick's agent got Andrion's permission before that commercial aired.

ANDRION: No, it's good for him is good for you right. I'm like yes and no, but he's not understanding my point of view. You know, like I'm supposed to be in that commercial. You know what I mean? It's my work that they're showing, you know.

SULLIVAN: Nes Andrion told me he had mixed feelings about signing the waiver. And he says he hasn't received any money in return for signing. But he says working with Kaepernick has been a good thing for him overall. And once Kaepernick and his agents had the rights to the tattoos on his body, he was free to extend those to "Madden." So, if you're planning to pick up a copy of the newest "Madden" next week, try this out. Pick the 49ers as your team, send your quarterback in for a rushing touchdown and watch as the computerized Kaepernick gives that signature bicep kiss to the Nes Andrion tattoo faithfully recreated on his digital arm. Becky Sullivan, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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