Kobe Bryant tattoo
This crown and butterflies tattoo sported by b'ball star Kobe Bryant is at the center of a copyright suit involving Take Two Interactive and its NBA video gamesReuters

Video game maker Take Two Interactive Software has been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit in Manhattan federal court for featuring US basketball stars — and their tattoos — in a popular video game series. The suit was filed by Solid Oak Sketches LLC, which said its copyright was violated because it owns the licenses to the athletes' tattoos after acquiring them from the artists who created the works.

Standout ink work sported by Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant and Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James have been featured "prominently" on game covers and on advertisements for Take Two's NBA games without any compensation, the complaint claims, Bloomberg Business reported. Take Two has said it sold 4 million copies of just one of the games — NBA 2K16 — the first week it was released in late September 2015.

Solid Oak is demanding damages for using eight tattoo designs. The tattoos at issue include a crown with butterflies on Bryant's right bicep, a "330" area code and a child's portrait on James's arms, and works on NBA players Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan and Kenyon Martin.

Determining tattoo rights is an issue in its infancy in US courts that is far from being definitively determined. But while "the issue of tattoo copyrightability has yet to be decided upon in court due to numerous settlements," the tattoo artists' works are the kind of "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works" that deserve legal protection, Solid Oak said.

Attorney Michael Kahn previously reached a settlement over the unauthorised use of Mike Tyson's face tattoo in the movie Hangover II. He also attempted to cut a deal earlier on behalf Solid Oak with Take Two.

He offered to grant the company the use of the eight tattoos in the 2014 and 2015 versions of the games for $819,000 (£569,000), or a perpetual license beginning in 2016 for $1.4m (£970,000). Solid Oak filed the suit after the settlement offer was rejected.

A tattoo artist was awarded $22,500 (£16,000) after his lion tattoo over the rib cage of Ultimate Fighting Championship champion Carlos Condit was used in THQ's UFC Undisputed, which sold 4.1 million copies.