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Most people operate under the assumption that your body is your property and that you have eminent domain over it. However recent surges in not only celebrity tattoos but the use of tattoos in advertising may have set the stage for a showdown between tattoo artists and the tattoo collectors who wear the finished work.
The fight comes down to artwork and copyright. Most often copyright and art collide when someone copies a piece of art by one artist and then attempts to pass it off as an original or as the copier’s own work. People who choose to get trademark tattoos often do so as they wish to express their support for what the image symbolizes. Nike, the manufacturer of sport shoes, has a dedicated group of employees who wear the company’s “swoop” logo tattooed on them.
Logos have become popular for temporary tattoos as part of promotional campaigns. Rock concerts hand out the band’s logo. Tech conventions featured company and product logos as temp tattoos too, and often door prizes are awarded by people roaming the event floor, gifting those who display the required logo prominently.
Now, if a specific advertising campaign were designed to feature a well-known celebrity and his almost-as-well-known-tattoos, where does the copyright conflict come in? It arrives in the form of the debate over who owns the tattoo designs. Does the tattooist have any say over how the art he’s put on someone else can be used? In the instance of a planned ad campaign featuring Euro soccer star David Beckham, UK tattooist Louis Malloy thinks so. Malloy has designed and inked nine of Beckham’s tattoos, and considers them his intellectual property as the designs were originals drawn by him. Obviously, David Beckham considers them his property, being as they were requested by him and reside on his body.
According to US Copyright law, USC title 17 states "In the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright" According to that statement, hiring a tattoo artist to design and ink a tattoo for you makes the person who paid for the tattoo the owner, unless paperwork is signed that changes those conditions. This of course presumes that having a tattoo done is “...the case of a work made for hire.”
However in October 2003, British copyright law was changed a bit to unify European copyright regulations. Malloy may be considering pursuing the case in regards to commercial copying, which is defined as “... a broader term than 'profit-making'. 'Commercial' is in practice synonymous with 'direct or indirect income-generating'.” The case will undoubtedly be played out in the British tabloids and legal courts, but people on both sides of the tattoo needle are going to be watching this one.
Content copyright © 2013 by Rae Schwarz. All rights reserved.
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