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Can You Copyright Tattoos

Can You Copyright Tattoos

Joshua Julien Brouard

Joshua Julien Brouard

09 August 20234 min read

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Can You Copyright Tattoos

As a tattoo artist, you've probably wondered whether you can copyright the tattoos you give clients. And as someone with a tattoo, you might've wondered at one time or another whether you can copyright your tattoo. In this article, I'll answer the question, "Can you copyright tattoos" for tattoo artists and tattoo owners.

Without further ado, let's get to it:

Now for the shocking part.

Despite having gone through the physical and emotional pain of permanently engraving something onto your skin, as someone with a tattoo, you don't own the copyright.

Yes, that's right. The tattoo artist who designed the tattoo is officially the copyright owner.

But what does this mean for you?

Well, it doesn't mean much, to be honest. You can still share your tattoo done by a tattoo studio on social media or show it off in public without fear of a copyright infringement notice in your mail. This is all fair use.

However, tattoo copyright laws come into play if you wish to use the design commercially. This could mean tattooing someone's tattoo on another person or replicating the design on a canvas and selling the image.

And even if the tattoo artist doesn't register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office tattoos are nevertheless protected by copyright under the common law. 

Ultimately, it's the artist's intellectual property.

Hot Tip: If you're a tattoo artist, it's always a good idea to consider getting federal protection for your work. You'll get much more robust protection and legal remedies. File out your application for copyright registration today with the help of a licensed attorney.

This begs the question: Is there ever a case where you have a copyright over the tattoo?

Now, if you contributed to the design of the tattoo, then you and the tattoo artist would be considered co-contributors, and you'd both have copyright protection.

The Mike Tyson tattoo case

To emphasize just how seriously copyright is taken when it comes to tattoos, it's worth mentioning the well-known Mike Tyson tattoo case.

Without explaining, you probably already know which tattoo I'm talking about.

Mike Tyson's famous face tattoo has become a brand image for him.

The case was Whitmill vs. Warner Bros.

Mike Tyson's tattoo artist, S. Victor Whitmill, sued Warner Bros for copyright infringement after seeing his tattoo design used in the promotion of the Hangover 2. The tattoo artist had registered the design with the U.S. Copyright Office

He also had Mike Tyson sign, agreeing not to use the tattoo for commercial purposes (this includes using it as promotional and marketing material).

The case was ultimately settled outside of the courtroom. 

Can you get the same tattoo as someone else?

The short answer is no. You can only get the same tattoo as someone else if the tattoo has been altered to incorporate unique elements.

There is an exception, however. If you get permission from the original tattoo artist, you could use their work in the form of a tattoo, and it wouldn't be considered copyright infringement.

Can tattoo artists copy drawings?

Here's where it gets interesting.

While this may happen occasionally, technically, it's considered copyright infringement.

Here's why:

The person who created the original drawing or image has copyright protection, so using it in a tattoo would be considered copyright infringement.

They'd be within their full rights to pursue legal action. Now, will they? Unlikely, but if they do, you have a legal battle to face.

It's better to play it safe and only use original designs. That is unless you got permission to use it beforehand.

While protection under the common law does offer some shield, it's not enough as part of a long-term I.P. strategy. Create your I.P. plan with your business's strategic goals in mind. We'd suggest contacting an intellectual property attorney who can help you with your copyright application to get complete federal protection. 


FAQs

Do tattoo artists own the copyright to their work?

Yes, tattoo artists own the copyright to their work. Notably, the tattoo artist who designed the tattoo will hold the copyright. However, they'd still have to undergo online copyright registration if they want complete federal protection. 

Is copying a tattoo illegal?

Copying a tattoo is considered tattoo copyright infringement. It's the equivalent of taking credit for someone else's original artwork. And keep in mind that reputable tattoo artists will likely take legal action if their copyright is infringed upon. 

Can I get a tattoo of a copyrighted image?

To get a tattoo of a copyrighted image, you have to get permission from the copyright holder. If you get their approval, then you can safely get the tattoo without any legal risk. 

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Joshua J. Brouard brings a rich and varied background to his writing endeavors. With a bachelor of commerce degree and a major in law, he possesses an affinity for tackling business-related challenges. His first writing position at a startup proved instrumental in cultivating his robust business acumen, given his integral role in steering the company's expansion. Complementing this is his extensive track record of producing content across diverse domains for various digital marketing agencies.