San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the only player in the newest edition of the Madden NFL video game franchise to have his signature tattoos faithfully rendered in the game. 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 […]