Digital Life


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.


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.


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."


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


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.


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.


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.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from