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Kat Von D Copyright Judgment

Kat Von D, Tattooist, Copyright judgment: A Landmark Case in Intellectual Property Protection

Written by Faith Capstick

In the diverse world of intellectual property rights, the recent judgment involving renowned tattoo artist and entrepreneur Kat Von D has sent ripples through the creative community. This case not only highlights the importance of protecting artistic works but also underscores the significance of understanding copyright laws. However, for UK readership, these are US cases and therefore do not have applicable impact on UK law. We delve into the details of the Kat Von D copyright judgment, its implications, and the broader context of intellectual property protection.

Kat Von D, celebrated for her intricate tattoo designs and makeup line, found herself embroiled in a copyright dispute over her artwork. The case revolved around allegations of unauthorised use and reproduction of the artistic works of others used in her tattoo design on a friend, these designs being closely based on a Miles Davis photograph by Jeffrey B. Sedlik. Her defence has been the right to body autonomy and fair use. Her attempt to rely on the fair use doctrine was denied in the first instance by the judge, basing it on the Warhol judgment, as it was not considered to be transformative enough from the original photograph. The Warhol case was a precedent setting case in which the fair use argument was quashed because both the original photograph and Warhol’s artwork was used commercially. Kat Von D argued that her original works had not been used in a commercial way, the Judge sent the case to Jurors to be decided.

On 26 January 2024, the Jury decided in favour of Kat Von D. They based their decision on the fact her use was not for commercial purposes. In an era where digital content can be easily shared and manipulated, safeguarding intellectual property has become more crucial than ever. By understanding their rights and leveraging legal mechanisms, artists can protect their work from infringement and unauthorised use.

The judgment generates many more questions which could impact not just the tattoo industry, but all industries who rely on artistic copyright. Will or should tattooists require permission for any image brought to them by a customer? Should all photographers and artists be recompensed for tattoos which have been inspired by their work? Should the estate of Miles Davis have rights in the decision? Or any person, who’s face is being tattooed on skin? The landslide of litigation possibilities could be endless. The Kat Von D case underscores the importance of respecting artists’ intellectual property rights and original creations, whether it be artists, photographers or tattooists. It will take many more copyright cases to be brought before the courts in these areas for a comprehensive precedent to be set in the eyes of the law.

Tattooists, similar to any other kind of artist, should take proactive measures to safeguard their work. Even though copyright is an unregistered right, it is worthwhile making sure there is a significant paper trail of evidence. Making sure their art is original and not a close derivative of anyone else’s artwork. For their own art, using the ACID IP database is an excellent way of gaining 3rd party dated evidence of original designs. Keeping abreast of copyright laws and recent legal developments can empower artists to protect their creations effectively. In cases of copyright infringement or disputes, seeking guidance from legal experts can help artists navigate the complexities of intellectual property law. It is worth mentioning, if this case had been brought forward in the UK, the judgment would most likely have had a very different outcome. Our application of fair use or fair-dealing doctrine will have been based more on whether the artwork was for education purposes. The judgment, also would not have been passed over to a Jury, therefore the original view of the Judge would have been upheld.

The Kat Von D copyright judgment represents a significant victory for tattooists in asserting their rights. However, it creates questions for artists from other industries. Rather than setting a precedent, there is a possibility of opening the floodgates for more incidences of litigation. As artists continue to innovate and express themselves through various mediums, it is imperative to uphold the integrity of their work by ensuring originality and guarantee fair compensation for their talents of any industry.

Using for image to depict article about Kat Von D copyright judgment. Image copyright of  Adobe Stock. Image of a female tattooist mid tattoo, looking down holding the tattoo gun on a customers arm.

We discussed copyright and tattooists in a previous article last year.

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