The Ink Debate: Who Owns Your Tattoo?

Can you copyright ink on flesh?

Apparently the jury is still out on the issue.

A Missouri tattoo artist who claimed Warner Brothers illegally reproduced a copyrighted tattoo settled his lawsuit earlier this month, according to a Wired magazine story. The settlement amount is confidential.

The artist claimed that the face tattoo featured in The Hangover: Part II movie was a reproduction of the one he gave boxing champion Mike Tyson in 2003.

Duh, right? Stu Price gets the tattoo in the movie after run-ins with Tyson in the original film and the sequel. Having a tattoo that looked like Tyson’s was the point.

Copyright is meant to protect the authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual works, according to the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright law, which was founded in 1976, gives authors the right to copy or distribute their own creative work. The work in question does not have to display the official copyright symbol or actually have been published to be protected by the law, according to my understanding of the act.

Since Tyson is in the movie, it seems he could condone the use of the tattoo, but apparently there’s some debate on whether the permanent art belongs to the inked or the inker.

This is not the first tattoo copyright lawsuit, but a verdict on enforcement has not been reached.

What do you think? Does a tattoo artist have creative license of his/her original artwork, even though it’s on someone else’s body? What if a person gives the tattoo artist a sketch of what he/she wants and the artist then recreates his/her artistic vision through a tattoo?

4 comments
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Many ancient cultures around the world have independently discovered and formulated inks for the purposes of writing and drawing.

RichardFreemen
RichardFreemen

Yeah Shell it's just a common tribal tattoo, in fact these are so common now a days I bet I can't even go to the store with out seeing two or three of them, these and <a href="http://www.mytattoomeanings.com/5/tattoo-quotes">tattoo quotes</a> are some of the most popular tattoos now. This design was probably done way before Mike Tyson and his artist got their hands on it.

Shell
Shell

I had heard about this and thought it was really odd. That tattoos seem like something that another tattoo artist could copy. My brother got one and the idea came from a design on a shirt he was wearing. No one questioned if it was legal to reproduce that image on him.

Prof KRG
Prof KRG

I hadn't really thought that through either. Most tattoos aren't original work. This means they're taking from somewhere... a T-shirt, a pop culture symbol, etc. It would seem those original authors have copyright on those materials. Therefore, you could have illegal material tattooed on your body. How do you go about removing that problem?