General Question

elbanditoroso's avatar

Are tattoos copyrightable?

Asked by elbanditoroso (24540points) March 10th, 2018

Suppose I have a very fancy and intricate tattoo somewhere on my body. (I don’t, but just suppose) I designed it and the tattoo artists drew it on my body and it is excellent work.

Then suppose someone saw it, and maybe took a picture of it. (For the sake of this question, let’s say it was on my chest and someone snapped a picture of it at the pool.)

Next thing I know, they have the exact same tattoo on their body, every last detail.

Is that copyright infringement? Is my unique design covered by copyright? Can I sue for infringement?

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4 Answers

funkdaddy's avatar

Yes, you could probably make a case that it’s copyright infringement, but like most copyright claims, it’s pretty complicated who you’d go after and what your possible “damages” would be of someone loving your work enough to get it permanently put on their body.

This article gets some answers, and discusses a lot of scenarios, but mostly boils down to “it depends”.

Who Owns the Copyright in Your Tattoo Art? – Art Law Journal

CWOTUS's avatar

I haven’t read @funkdaddy‘s link yet, but I suspect that there’s an added aspect to this that your question dodges. That is, YOU may not be the copyright owner just because the artwork is displayed on your body… unless you were also the artist, from start to finish.

Let’s say, starting from one part of your question, that you had indeed designed the artwork, and the tattoo artist applied your design to your body. Then the question is when and where the copyright was established: your design on paper on in digital format? or when it’s applied via the tattoo artist’s skill, tools and materials to your skin?

The tattoo artist could make a credible claim that he is a co-owner of the copyright, and that you each licensed the work to each other. That is, you licensed your original design for his application, and he licensed his own application for your “use”.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@CWOTUS – excellent points. Although I could argue that he was just the technician and I was the designer. Better that it gets put in writing beforehand..

I wonder if this situation ever actually occurs.

SarahBoyett's avatar

It would be copyrightable if your drawing were patented by you. Besides, it is worth considering that the work on the tattoo was done by the master and not you.

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