Monday, November 19, 2012

Rent seeking runs more than skin deep

I've noticed a lot of the tragedy of the anticommons in video games since I wrote about it a year and a half ago, where a swarm of different permission, copywrite and trademark rights prevent a game from being sold. It often takes the form of music licensing rights preventing older games from being re-released, but occasionally someone tries to profit off the game by claiming something they own was depicted in a game that has already been released.

This new case sets a new watermark for frivolous copywrite claims that abuse copywrite laws.

Arizona-based tattoo artist Chris Escobedo gave mixed martial arts fighter Carlos Condit a lion tattoo. THQ made the game UFC Undisputed 3 which features Condit, and the graphics of the game depict the same lion tattoo. Escobedo is suing UFC because he owns the copywrite to the tattoo, not Condit, and wants a piece of the action since it can be seen in the game and the game's website.

The Constitution said that we have patents and other intellectual property rights to "promote the progress of science and useful arts.” What Escobedo is doing is rent-seeking; he is trying to profit just because he can while creating nothing of value, and in doing so he threatens to stifle creative expression.

The worst part is, this has come up before and the law may fall on the rent seekers side

Although it settled out of court, the makers of The Hangover 2 faced a similar situation for the reproduction without permission of Mike Tyson's facial tattoo in their film. Had it made it to court, legal experts suggest that the film makers would have lost.

It's bad enough that someone trying to negotiate the re-release of a game has to track down permission from all the voice actors and soundtrack, but now they might have to contact the guy who made a similar tattoo in real life? Good grief, this needs to change.

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