wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Did Randy Orton’s Tattoos Get WWE Sued?

October 17, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Randy Orton disappointment WWE Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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James has dead skin on trial:

With athletes such as Randal Keith Orton and Michael Tyson having been involved with lawsuits around their respective tattoos from tattoo artists, what kinds of protection should an athlete take to avoid these kind of legal battles? Is there a document that the athlete should have the tattoo artist sign with something to the effect of that their design may be digitally recreated in video games or other media and that the artist would have no further compensation outside of the charge of inking the tattoo? For that matter, are you aware of any official policies that prevent (or discourage) athletes from getting tattoos, piercings, or other body modifications?

That’s Michael Gerard Tyson to you, buddy.

For those who may not know the backstory of James’ question, many of Randy Orton’s tattoos were inked by a tattoo artist named Catherine Alexander. Orton was then, as you might expect, included in WWE video games such as WWE 2K16, 2K17, and 2K18. In those games, all of his tats were recreated in digital form. This prompted Alexander to file a copyright infringement lawsuit against both WWE and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., the developer of the video games, claiming that the companies reproduced art that she had valid intellectual property rights in without making any payment to her.

The lawsuit was initiated in 2018 and finally made its way to a jury trial here in 2022. The jury came down on the artist’s side, deciding that her rights were infringed upon. The jury further determined that WWE and Take-Two ought to pay Alexander the sum of $3,750.00. She had also requested that the jury pay her a share of the profits from the games, but that request was denied.

Many media outlets reported this as a “win” for Catherine Alexander, and, technically, it was. The jury did determine that the defendants did not have a right to reproduce the tattoos she designed without paying her. However, from my perspective, this was only a win in the narrowest sense of the word. Keep in mind what I mentioned above: FOUR YEARS passed between the time that the suit was filed and the time the verdict was reached.

Do you know what it costs to keep an attorney working on a case of this nature for four years? Granted, there’s a chance that Alexander had a contingent fee agreement with her attorneys, meaning she would only be required to pay them a percentage of what she won as opposed to paying them for their work on an hourly basis. However, somebody lost their ass here from a financial perspective. Either Alexander paid hourly fees to her attorneys that were well in excess of what the jury awarded her or the attorneys received a minuscule contingent fee worth far less than the value of the time they had to put into the case.

Also, the legal proceedings aren’t necessarily over. This is not the first time a tattoo artist has sued over their designs being re-used in a video game. In the vast, vast majority of those other suits, the video game company has won, either because the use of the designs was considered to be “fair use,” transformative, or fleeting, all of which are common defenses to copyright infringement claims. Given that other courts in other venues have come down on this issue quite differently, an appeal by WWE and/or Take-Two could be coming down the pike . . . and that’s all the more attorneys’ fees for either Alexander or her law firm to absorb.

Granted, the Alexander camp will probably still try to frame this as a victory because, again, they did technically win. They’ve most likely sunk an absurd amount of time into this matter of principle, though.

With all that being said, let’s get to James’ actual question. Is there something that Randy Orton could have done to prevent this from becoming an issue at all?

The answer is yes.

Orton no doubt paid something to have the body art drawn on to him. In exchange for that payment, he could have requested that Alexander sign an agreement which provided him with some sort of ability to reproduce or otherwise use the tattoos. On the flip side, in exchange for signing that sort of agreement, Alexander could have charged more than she would have for the normal tat job. The agreement could have been something referred to as a license, which is formal permission for somebody to use your intellectual property on defined terms, or it could have been an outright sale of all property rights in the designs to the Viper.

However, it’s worth noting that if the artist sold or licensed the design rights to Orton, then WWE and/or Take-Two would have to have paid Orton for the rights to use the tats in their video game, if the logic of the jury in East St. Louis were to continue to apply to this situation. Of course, this could be covered by WWE getting an agreement from Orton in his talent contract stating that they have full right to use or reproduce his likeness, including tattoos.

The question of whether wrestlers or wrestling companies will now insist on this type of agreement will likely depend on where the case involving Alexander goes from here. If an appellate court overturns the jury’s decision, then there is not nearly as much for WWE and its business partners to worry about.

Taking it to the second part of the question, professional sports leagues certainly have, from time to time, attempted to police the ways that athletes alter their bodies. Probably the biggest modern example comes from the NBA. The basketball association does not prohibit its players from getting tattoos, obviously, but they do want to keep their sponsors happy by requiring that any basketballer with ink of a corporate logo cover it up while they are on the court. If you see a player with an oddly-positioned piece of athletic tape on their body and no apparent injury, there’s a good chance that they’re hiding a prohibited tattoo.

There have also been whispers over the years that WWE requires approval for modifications to skin, hair, and piercings, though hard confirmation is a bit more difficult to come by. Granted, there was an episode of Total Divas that focused on Paige attempting to get a “banned” tattoo, but Total Divas was as phone as a $3 bill, so . . .

(The answer above discussed some legal concepts. None of the above was intended as legal advice to any person or persons. To receive legal advice, consult your personal attorney regarding your specific situation.)

Okay, so this next letter is going to take a bit of backstory. On September 20, I answered a question about potential causes of CM Punk’s tirade at the post-All Out media scrum. Then, on September 28, I ran a letter from an individual who was at All Out and some of the other events that weekend, who wondered if a kid in the audience dressed like Colt Cabana might have contributed to Punk’s dander getting up. Well, now we’ve got another perspective, which is rather close to the situation. Let’s hear from AC:

I have been a longtime reader and this week, saw something that made me do a double take – the Colt Cabana Kid letter. That kid is my son, and was dressed at the show like Colt. The details are accurate to the signs and such.

A little background if you care: My son is disabled. He wasn’t able to walk correctly or run at all until last year. They were planning surgery in Chicago, and I reached out to both Punk and Cabana through proper channels to see if they’d have time to pop into the hospital or give him a call or whatever. Punk never responded. Cabana not only responded, but invited him to come hang out for a bit. After he recovered and was walking, Colt invited him to be AEW’s batboy for the charity softball game last fall. During that game, my son ran for the first time ever and they let him pinch run, and he was able to get his first home run ever. This helped change his life. Cabana has been nothing but a great friend to our family since and hero to my son. My son still likes Punk too, so nothing sinister was planned.

His sign was for Colt (he comes to all shows like this) and he held it up at Punk thinking he could help if he was champ – he is young and has no idea about backstage drama or who likes who in real life. My other son was holding the CM is a Punk sign because while he likes Punk too, he wanted Mox to win. Nothing they did was meant to piss Punk off, nor did they even yell anything at him. Just kids being kids enjoying wrestling.

Now, to the guy’s suspicions, yes, Punk clearly saw the signs both pre-match and post-show and looked hard at them and the boys. He didn’t look happy, but they weren’t trying in any way to start anything. It wasn’t until we got back to the hotel and they looked up wrestling that they learned of the media scrum and it actually upset my son pretty bad thinking he caused all the drama to the point of tears. He truly thought he wrecked AEW and was devastated. When I reached out to Colt to make sure my son didn’t cause issues, without hesitation or me asking, he sent a personal message to my son telling him he was fine and thanked him for continuing to support him. People can say what they want about Colt Cabana’s character, but he has always done right by my son and our family, just a great guy in my opinion. Colt is one of his heroes and he goes out of his way to treat him right. Others are entitled to their opinions, but I can only speak to what we know.

In closing, I’ll say this: If the man behind the CM Punk character was that upset by a child (after decades of fans attacking the character he plays with signs or words) and started major issues due to it, that isn’t on my kids. That’s on him to deal with any issues he may have with people who aren’t our family. I can’t comment on what went down because it isn’t my place and I wasn’t there. While I don’t feel he liked the kids signs, I don’t think in the slightest my boys caused anything to escalate backstage like that. If CM Punk did lose his cool over a couple of kids in a crowd every time that had anti-Punk signs, he’d have never done anything in the business besides argue with people, which is ridiculous to think.

So crazy someone saw my son and tried to make something more out of it that it was. I could be wrong, as I don’t know Punk, but I’d like to think he’s not that petty to go off because of signs in the crowd he didn’t like.

Just wanted to share that. Never thought I’d have to.

Well, there you have it. There was certainly no attempt incite Punk with the costumes (nor would one think there would be given that these are children), and I have to agree with AC that, if this really did upset Punk, he’s got far thinner skin than anybody ever realized. Probably skin that’s too thin to be in the industry, in fact.

Also, in regards to Cabana, it’s always nice to hear that there are some professional athletes who remain class acts.

Tyler from Winnipeg is newly #AllElite . . . or is he?

Where did Bandido break in?

Pretty sure it was Mexico.

Seriously, though, the earliest recorded Bandido matches took place in 2011, and he was originally based out of a region of northern Mexico called La Laguna. He wrestled independents there, teaming with a cousin as Los Magnificos.

He started to gain more exposure around 2017, when he was booked to work shows for a lucha promotion called Todo X el Todo, which was created by El Hijo del Santo when Santo had fallen out of favor with other major companies south of the border. 2018 is when he really broke out, as he joined fellow luchador Flamito in Dragon Gate, where the two teamed quite a bit. From Dragon Gate, he got booked in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and then Ring of Honor, ultimately becoming the first Mexican wrestler to sign a full-time deal with that company.

Dagwood Fabuloso, Jr. is coming to us live from Guantanamo Bay:

Is Tyler from Winnipeg holding you hostage, handcuffed to a Triple Dome of Terror or something while he fires questions at you? Blink twice if yes.

. . . be quiet . . . he can hear us . . .

Kyle is fact-checking the Flock:

Recently Raven was announced as going into the Impact Hall of Fame. The stories reporting this I’ve seen mention him having 36 total titles. Is this number anywhere close to accurate? I vaguely remember reading that for years he technically had the most titles in WWE because of phantom Hardcore title changes at house shows and such though I think R-Truth surpassed that in the 24/7 era.

As always, it depends on what you want to count.

If you go to Raven’s Wikipedia page and add up every championship listed there – which includes some fairly obscure indy belts – he’s got 67 title reigns in total, with 27 of those being the WWE Hardcore Championship.

If you limit this to what most people would consider major promotions – WWE, WCW, TNA, and ECW – I actually come up with 37 championships, consisting of the 27 WWE Hardcore Title reigns, one WCW Tag Team Title reign, one WCW United States Title reign, one WCW Light Heavyweight Title reign, one NWA World Heavyweight Title reign in TNA, four ECW Tag Team Title reigns, and two ECW Title reigns.

I suspect that the stories you’re reading list 36 instead of 37 because they missed the Light Heavyweight Championship due to the fact that he won it under the name Scotty Flamingo rather than Raven.

For what it’s worth, R-Truth’s number of 24-7 Championship victories now DOUBLES Raven’s runs with the Hardcore Title, as Truth has 54 reigns in total. However, back when he was K-Kwik, Truth did actually win the original Hardcore Title twice in February 2001.

It’s Michael on Michaels:

Shawn Michaels has won PWI’s Match of the Year an incredible 11 times. If you had to rank those 11 from best to worst, how would you rank them?

Here’s my list of those matches, though I’m going to go with ranking them from worst to best as opposed to the other way around:

11. Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel (Wrestlemania XI)
10. Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon (Wrestlemania XII)
9. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair (Wrestlemania XXIV)
8. Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty (May 17, 1993 Raw)
7. Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena (April 23, 2007 Raw)
6. Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart (Wrestlemania XII)
5. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle (Wrestlemania XXI)
4. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H vs. Chris Benoit (Wrestlemania XX)
3. Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker (Wrestlemania XXV)
2. Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker (Wrestlemania XXVI)
1. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon – Ladder Match (Wrestlemania X)

For what it’s worth, I have not paid much attention to the PWI Match of the Year award in the past, but I have to say that they seem to focus much more on the significance of the match as opposed to the quality of the bout, which is why you see so many Wrestlemania main events listed, even in years where almost nobody else thinks that they were actually the best contest of the period.

Gilles is a widow maker:

Do you think Barry Windham is one of the most underrated wrestlers ever?

No, not really. Just about everybody who seriously discusses Barry Windham’s career pegs him as being one of the best in-ring performers of his generation. I’m not sure how that could qualify somebody as being underrated.

We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.