A recent L.A. Times article posed the question, “Whose tattoo is it anyway?” The article goes on to outline ownership issues as it relates to the copyright in a tattoo. On the one hand, the person who has the tattoo on their body should be able to have ownership of it in light of paying for it. However, the artist who actually put the tattoo on the person may also have rights under copyright law. Lawsuits have been filed in the past over this exact issue, and, in order to avoid dispute as to copyright ownership in a tattoo, there are certain things that any transaction involving a tattoo should include. There should be a written agreement that makes clear who owns the copyright. There could be assignment language or other language, potentially even work-for-hire language that makes clear that the tattoo is owned by the person under whose body it is placed. Otherwise, there is always a risk that the copyright may be claimed by the tattoo artist.
Tattoos are no different than other kinds of copyright. The placing of a tattoo original work of art on someone’s body qualifies for copyright protection. The owner is entitled to the typical copyright bundle of rights, including the right to reproduce the copyrighted work, the right to prepare derivative works based upon the work, the right to distribute copies of the work to the public, the right to perform the copyrighted work publically, and the right to display the copyrighted work publically. While a person with a tattoo may argue the fact that it is on their body means that they are entitled ownership, why leave it to question?
Here are some additional copyright tattoo resources:
- Tattoo Artists Copyright Claims – Tattoo artists want tattoo copyrights for their ink creations that are being shown through various types of media.
- Tattoo and Copyright Infringement – Some tattoos could infringe on copyrights when put on display.
As such, a copyright attorney, like myself, always recommends that it be identified with a proper copyright agreement that makes clear who owns the copyright and how it may be used.