Can Tattoo Art Be Copyrighted?

Midsection of Man Using Smart Phone

It’s difficult to identify a more personalized statement or method of collaborative endorsement than using our bodies as canvases, permanently marking one’s skin. Their customer’s tattooed compositions are more widely and easily visible than functions done perhaps in nearly any other medium. Yet within the tattooing area sufficiently detailed or serious analysis of activity as well as related technological and socioeconomic impacts are seldom accorded.

As is most common with online tattoo-related writings, content often primarily serves as an advertisement vehicle for images hyping inking as a clinic and is then peppered by quotations from a handful of readily contactable [often just mainstream] artists. Implications of copyrighting tattoo designs and associated body art forms, particularly completed tattoo works, are worth investigating in greater detail:

“Tattoo artists calling for right to have copyright in their work | There’s an unwritten rule in New Zealand – respectable tattoo artists do not copy designs. Right now the Copyright Act 1994 is under review, and artists behind the ink say stricter laws could protect original tattoo designs. House of Natives founder Gordon Toi would champion tattoo protection. “I would love to see some kind of governance over Maori tattooing and Polynesian tattooing… there’s so much exploitation.” Original designs were often replicated, often overseas without even speaking to the New Zealand artist, he said.

“Skin is most likely the hardest thing to copyright, because everyone is copying it.” Pacific Tattoo owner Tim Hunt wanted artists to respect the meaning of Maori and Pacific cultural patterns and symbols. “Any artist could say, I can do you a layout that has korus and looks Maori”, Hunt said.

“But if you would like something authentic, you’ll need to go somewhere else.” Overseas, tattoo artists are suing when their designs appear on in the media, like television. In 2011, the artist of Mike Tyson’s Maori-inspired facial tattoo sued Warner Bros over a depiction of facial art on a character in The Hangover: Part II. If copyright law protected cultural images, Hunt would honor the shift. “I need more tattoo artists to stand up and say:’I do not know enough about it, I don’t know the history behind it, and I do not understand the context behind it’.” Overseas, tattoo artists replicate images without another thought.

New Zealand was different, he said. “It’s kind of an unspoken code in New Zealand that you simply don’t do this.” Hunt thought the customer owned the tattoo, not the artist. Union Tattoo proprietor Craigy Lee agreed there was an unwritten code of behavior to not replicate a custom tattoo. Decent artists would not dare to create money from someone else’s design, he said. University of Auckland associate professor Alex Sims said technically what is now happening in New Zealand is probably copyright infringement – under the banner of art. However Sims cautioned against rigorous enforcement of copyright laws on tattoos, which could include removal of tattoos, preventing the tattoos appearance in advertisements and films, or requiring the removal of tattoos out of social networking. “It would give the copyright owner the power to control images of a individual, which could be extremely concerning and just wrong.”

Tattoo vs art

To be used in the tattooing world, a distinction between copyrighting made or applied tattoo art must be made. We address professional practitioners tattooing as their renewable, primary means of income.

Tattooists may have several images and other as yet non-applied media content such as layouts, compositions, sketches or custom artworks. Like representations of various traditional art forms, these are relatively simple to recorded as well as upload allowing clear digital ascription of copyright ownership.

Separately, as worn by clients, tattooists typically have portfolios of tattooed pieces. With a three-dimensional canvas introduces complexities to automated digital identification. In numerous image copyright monitoring software, positioning alone could entirely throw off investigation methods. While Instagram and alternate photo uploading databases offer some kind of time-stamped verification but, because of comparatively openly editable structures subsequent possession and source attribution can become diluted. Whether tattooist’s produced art is recorded on skin or another sort of canvas is the first practical differentiation.

Artist vs technician

In order for copyrighting factors to be adequately reviewed, category functions as a tattoo business specific starting categorizations.

Forgoing reflections on the tattoo artist’s styles and aesthetics may have been derived or inspired, the tattoo artist’s works are independently recognizable as”being theirs”.

Proportionately with other creative mediums, the tattoo artist has a particular vision, knowledge and or experience which may not be easily substituted for or by anybody else. The tattoo artist may therefore be classified as practicing the tattooing craft so as to convey a unique style and or furthering the continuation of a single aesthetic or technique.

Tattoo technicians may have distinct portfolios of completed, tattooed, works. While the tattoos in these portfolios can’t be exactly replicated, such unique quality attributes are due primarily to positioning on a bespoke canvas, i.e. on one entirely individual person. The cohesive result is bespoke rather than the isolation of a composition. Similarly such tattooed work is formed within particular, often non-reproducible proportions. The subsequent tattoo may indeed be faithfully replicated by any number of additional tattoo technicians, albeit on a different exclusive canvas.

And as proportionate to qualified technicians in almost any field, a tattoo technician may be substituted with no underlying loss or degradation to outcomes. A technician is your tattooist physically and technically capable of applying categories of tattoos yet may do so indiscriminately about a single style, size, technique, aesthetic and or design. Capacity rather than artistic character or vision here is the limiting factor.

Tattoo artists may be thought of [as just two examples from millions] Ondrash conveying a distinctive aesthetic to Horioshi III in Japan continuing the rich artwork of tebori. Both being solely in the tattoo artist’s jurisdiction, delimitation of copyrighting unique compositions instead of reproductions of classic iconography forms another notable separation.

Like any configuration in the more classically mainstream mediums like painting, such a dichotomy is not to state that tattoo art itself necessarily neither falls onto a single side. As with all artistic pursuits, sources of inspiration in addition to subjectively justifiable conclusions the same compositions labelled as’homage’ by some or’theft’ to others remains to be objectively qualified in any manner whatsoever. As often said, good artists copy – good artists steal. In practical terms though the tattoo artist producing traditionally inspired functions may automatically and logically be precluded from copyrighting registration of tattooed art off of the human canvas.

Copyrights vs claims

There might be a twofold purpose of copyright registration. Firstly this functions as externally verified recognition, by a third party, of bespoke or imputed authorship. Not least of which frequently lending substance to revenue pricing.

Secondly the purpose of holding a copyright ownership registration might be preparation for cataloguing proceedings when initiating formalized legal protections. These proceeding nonetheless require the violator(s) be identified, engaged with, refuse to honor the enrollment and successfully convicted in a manner constrained by their applicable court(s) of legislation. Quantification of receivable remuneration is dependent upon violator’s true identification, owned content’s recorded usage, set culpability through response and achievable legal ramifications as determined in part by physical location. All form notable, complicating factors.

It’s been found as trivial for a tattooist to use the designs or even finished tattooed portfolio pieces of another. Though a large portion of accredited tattoo art is searchable online, sheer volumes accessible via disparate sources fractures attempts for single stage [i.e. one tattooist’s] crediting. The illegal or unauthorized use of tattooed works conceivably only being in printed or offline portfolios, as with those shown to studio clientele. Tattoos often serve as an individually enacted and privately held art form.

Online display and thereby essentially public’registration’ of tattooed functions may therefore intentionally not exist. Its wearer might have requested this.

These factors translate into an ability for tattoo technicians, dealing directly with individual customers, to possibly be quite liberal in statements of completed works as well as, by extension, maintained tattooing experience or expertise.

In a practical way, the motivations or impetus for copyright ownership registration of tattoo works apply more broadly to the tattoo artist and possibly only as form of registration of completed portfolios to the technician. However utilized the creator now has immutable, single-source substantiation of ownership.

Just like the technology’s decentralized capacity, skill of trust reallocation onto individual sources instead of’hubs’ equates to possibly ushering in a new standard of work affirmation. This is hugely significant for the client in the process selection. For tattoo artists the effects and benefits of copyright ownership through blockchain will also be significant.