Bodies of Art (4 of 4)

This is part of a series of posts talking about how the law interacts with tattoo art and what happens when other art gets involved. I’m still not a lawyer.

So we’ve established that tattoos are art. I take my body art pretty seriously, as do all of the tattooers I’ve come into contact with, but there are industries that tend to find ink a little less impressive. Why should they be paying attention to this?

This seemingly superficial and informal segment of the arts community has ramifications for sectors of the business world that seem to be entirely unrelated to tattooing. The case of The Hangover 2, in particular, shows the breadth and diversity of effects that a violated tattoo copyright can cause. From major fines to full injunctions against production, a violated copyright of the manner could have serious economic effects. While the judge in this instance found that stopping the imminent release of the film would cause too much harm to the public good, this was the first statement of its kind about tattoo copyright. As it becomes part of the common law, judges may well become more stringent about enforcing these copyrights. Tattoo artists put anywhere between hours and days into the creation of a design and the transfer of this design to an applicable form. While it makes sense for a smart client to seek license to include their body art in any publicity, it also makes sense that a body artist would seek recognition with for their work.

Complexities in this area may arise in the case of a joint design or a customer design transferred to a tattooable image by an artist. Tattoos are frequently extremely personal to the wearer and the debate over who owns what could easily become heated. While it seems unlikely that the tattooer and the tattooee would sit down to draft a collaborative agreement, it certainly is not out of the realm of possibility that the standard waiver that accompanies any body modification might start to include an agreement about who owns what.

Despite the fact that corporations and possible plaintiffs seem to feel confident in their positions, body art as copyrightable art is well on its way to achieving validation through common law. This form of expression, often considered a symbol of a counter-culture or a rebellion against authority figures, looks to have ‘the man,’ or at least the law, on their side and it seems tattoo artists have come to an agreement with the judicial system— as far as this matter is concerned.

Citations after the jump.


Works Cited

Boudway, Ira. “Hey, Pro Athletes: Your Tattoo Is Going to Get You Sued.”

Business Week. Bloomberg, 4 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.



Cohen, Noam. “On Tyson’s Face, It’s Art. On Film, a Legal Issue.” New York

Times. N.p., 20 May 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. <



– – -. “Tattoo Artist Settles Tyson Dispute With ‘Hangover 2’.” New York

Times. N.p., 21 June 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.



“Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws.” Title 17 U.S. Code, Sec. 102 2003 ed., 8. Print.

Lineberry, Kate. “Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History.” History & Archaeology. Smithsonian Institute, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <;.

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