October 16, 2012 9:00am PT by Matthew Belloni
Fox Settles 'American Horror Story' Legal Spat Over 'Zombie Boy' Tattoo (Exclusive)
Twentieth Century Fox Television, producer of FX's American Horror Story, has settled an under-the-radar copyright fight with a model who claims his tattoo artwork was stolen for a key scene in the Emmy-winning series.
Rick Genest, a Canadian model who appeared in Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" video and has been called "Zombie Boy," is known for his distinctive skeletal body art, which he has copyrighted. An early episode of the first season of FX's hit series American Horror Story featured a scene in which a student played by Evan Peters dons extremely similar skeletal body makeup and goes on a shooting rampage in a high school before committing suicide. (Genest also is a spokesman for L’Oreal's Dermablend line of cosmetic products and recently helped relaunch the Paris-based Mugler Men’s fashion line.)
Sources say lawyers for Fox and Genest have been working out a settlement to avoid a lawsuit ever since. Horror Story has aired in dozens of countries, potentially exposing Fox to hundreds of thousands of dollars in copyright infringement damages and erasing or obscuring the Zombie Boy body art in future airings of the episode would have been extremely costly. At the same time, a court could also have found the two pieces of body art dissimilar or ruled that the Horror Story scene was a protected fair use.
But the two sides have come to an agreement to end the dispute. Terms are not being released.
“For complete clarity, I was not approached by Fox to license what I consider to be the use of my likeness or my copyrighted body art in American Horror Story,” Genest tells The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. "However, I understand that there was no intent to connect me with the character in their show, and I am pleased that I have come to a resolution of this matter with Fox.”
Fox declined to comment.
If the case sounds familiar, that's because it echoes claims brought in spring 2011 by a Missouri tattoo artist who created boxer Mike Tyson's distinctive facial mark against Warner Bros. over a similar tattoo on a character in the studio's The Hangover Part II. That case settled after a judge denied an effort to halt the film's release but called the studio's legal defenses "silly." The dispute generated national headlines and questions about whether body art and tattoos should be subject to copyright protection.
American Horror Story was a hit in its first season on FX, was nominated for several Emmys and won for best supporting actress in a miniseries for Jessica Lange. Its second season premieres Wednesday.
Genest was represented in the case by attorney Richard Dermer of RAM Management, as well as Dorothy Weber at Shukat Arrow Hafer Weber and Herbsman in New York and Mathieu Bouchard at Irving Mitchell Kalichman in Montreal.