Some tattoo artists have sued for copyright violations.

Are tattoos protected under copyright?

June 17, 2014 8:10 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

When an artist creates an original image, that image may be protected under copyright. But what happens when that image is a tattoo? Who owns the rights to the tattoo—the artist or the person with the image inked under their skin?

While it might seem like the tattoo belongs to the wearer, some tattoo artists have brought this into question, especially those who have tattooed athletes and other public figures who might display their tattoos on television, in photographs or other media. 

This issue is discussed in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that notes the case in which a Phoenix-based tattoo artist, Chris Escobedo, sued a video game developer that featured one of his tattoos on a character in one of its games. 

According to the article, some lawyers believe tattoos could be protected under copyright law in the same way that photographs and other visual works are, as long as they are an original work. 

As a a result, the NFL Players Association has been taking precautions against the possibility of a copyright infringement lawsuits involving tattoos. They have recommended that athletes with body art acquire licenses for it. Since it's possible that some athletes may appear as characters in video games where their distinctive body art may also appear, this is a precautionary measure. 

As the LA Times reported, tattoo artist Stephen Allen sued a video game company for featuring an NFL player with one of his tattoos. It was argued that this was a violation of copyright because the image of the tattoo was reproduced. 

The article goes on to note that tattoos do fit the description of a copyrightable work under the American intellectual property system. Businesses looking to protect their intellectual property can learn more from a Phoenix, AZ small business attorney.  

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