Your Cart

No products in the basket.

From the Newsdesk

Blurred Lines – Tattoos and Copyright

Some high-profile cases on copyright featured recently, not only make society consider how intellectual property (IP) works for the tattoo industry, but raises the question does copyright protect artists to the extent it should, and will there be a change in how the ‘fair-use’ argument is used due to new precedents from future court rulings?

Tattoo artist, Catherine Alexander, took the video game ‘Take Two’ to court about their likeness of her tattoos depicting the wrestler Randy Orton. ‘Take Two’ tried to argue they had a licence from Catherine, which they had not, then attempted their defence with the fair-use argument. The court found in favour of Catherine, awarding her reasonably low damages of £3299. Full article in NME here.

In a separate case famous tattoo artist, Kat Von D, has been accused of copyright infringement by photographer Jeffrey B. Sedlik after she tattooed the image of his photograph of Miles Davis on a friend. Her attempts at defence have been the right to body autonomy and fair-use, both of which were denied by the judge. The fair-use defence has been turned down due to her depiction as a change of medium and is therefore not transformative; meaning the secondary work had not been changed enough to be a separate piece of work from the original. Read more here.

These cases cause concern for the tattoo industry, as they could end up setting precedent at two ends of the scale. What images can tattooists use if they are not using only their original artwork? What if companies such as Disney, Nike etc. decide to start suing tattooists for using their trademarks and copyright material? Does a tattooed person have an automatic right to be represented in their full likeness, or does the tattooist own full copyright of the person’s depiction? These are complicated areas within copyright law, and often there is no definitive answer until a court has made a determination on a similar case, especially if it involves conflicting rights.

However, the issue of fair dealing or fair-use in all copyright work, including tattoo infringements, could hinge on the current Goldsmith vs. Warhol case where they are deciding how far the argument of transformative work can go. See more here and here. Andy Warhol’s use of photographer, Lynn Goldsmith’s image of Prince, is a highly anticipated ruling which may steer the course for many copyright infringement cases in the future.

Depending on how these high-profile cases play out, it is certainly a cause for concern for the tattoo industry. These cases create many questions on who should own what rights between influenced copyright artwork, tattooist’s original artwork, and the tattooed person’s body autonomy. Tattoos are now so mainstream, there is a need to define these questions further in the realms of intellectual property. It may become necessary, or at least advisable for tattooists to draw up licences, gain permission for certain artworks, and taking even further steps to protect their designs.

If you are a tattooist and would like some more information on the intellectual property concerning your artwork or business, please feel free to contact us at [email protected].

Spread the Word

Latest News

Newsletter Sign-Up

IP - Protect it or forget it!
Become “IP savvy” and part of a growing community who are anti copying in design