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Tattooing a photograph

On Behalf of | Feb 8, 2022 | Intellectual Property

Being a tattoo artist is an exciting career. You get to help people create permanent memories that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

While some clients want you to create an image for them, others may want to memorialize a photograph. The photograph may seem like it belongs to them, they may even be in the picture, but there are many times when a picture belongs to someone else.

Here’s what you should know about the risks that come with tattooing a photograph.

Who owns a photograph?

In intellectual property, the idea of who owns a photograph is a relatively settled matter. However, it can still come up in unique circumstances. In general, the photographer (not the subject) owns the photograph.

The idea behind this is that the photographer is the artist who creates the image, and all subjects, human or otherwise, are part of the art the photographer creates. Typically when a photographer allows a client to purchase rights to a photograph, there are limitations so that the photographer can protect the integrity of their work.

The suit against Kat Von D

Recently, photographer Jeffrey Sedlik filed a suit against celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D over a tattoo she completed and posted on social media. Sedlik took the picture in 1989 for Jazziz magazine.

In the complaint, Sedlik mentions that Kat Von D did not reach out to get a copyright license to use the photograph. Furthermore, Sedlik states that by posting the tattoo on social media, Kat Von D used Sedlik’s photograph to promote her business.

It is essential to get permission (a copyright license) from the photographer before using an image. In some cases, it can be difficult to determine who owns the image, so it is crucial to make a good faith effort to find the photographer before using the picture.