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Tyson-like tattoo in movie prompts suit

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ST. LOUIS — When Ed Helms' character in "The Hangover Part II" awakens in a far-away country, curled up in a bathtub and unaware that he is sporting a Mike Tyson-like facial tattoo, his friend sees it and warns, "You're gonna freak out but it's gonna be OK."

Whether or not it will be OK for Warner Bros. Entertainment may be determined in court. The Missouri artist responsible for Tyson's distinctive tattoo has filed suit, accusing the movie company of copyright infringement. The suit filed in April in federal court in St. Louis seeks unspecified financial compensation and asks the judge to block use of the tattoo in ads and in the movie that debuts May 26.

"It's a work of visual art," Pete Salsich, attorney for tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill, said Friday. "Mr. Whitmill does have a copyright registration for that. In that sense, this is taking somebody's art and making unauthorized copy or unauthorized derivative work from that art."

Paul McGuire, a spokesman for Warner Bros. Entertainment, declined comment.

The sequel to "The Hangover" finds the friends gathering for the marriage of Helms' character, Stu. They decide to go out just before the wedding and things go awry. A trailer for the movie shows three of the men, apparently hung over, in what appears to be Thailand. Helms, who awakened to find he had inexplicably lost a tooth in the original movie, is aghast to find the tattoo on his face.

Tyson, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, had a small role in "The Hangover."

The lawsuit claims that Whitmill gave Tyson the tattoo in February 2003 in Las Vegas, where Whitmill lived at the time. He now lives near Waynesville in south-central Missouri.

Tyson agreed that Whitmill would own the artwork and the copyright to the tattoo, the lawsuit said.

Salsich said he hasn't seen the actual movie itself, so he doesn't know if it implies that Helms' character got the tattoo from Whitmill. But he said the implication could harm Whitmill's reputation.

"Mr. Whitmill is very serious about his art and about doing it the right way," Salsich said. "He'd never tattoo anyone drunk or under the influence."

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