Athletes Don’t Own Their Tattoos

NYTimes: Any creative illustration “fixed in a tangible medium” is eligible for copyright, and, according to the United States Copyright Office, that includes the ink displayed on someone’s skin. What many people don’t realize, legal experts said, is that the copyright is inherently owned by the tattoo artist, not the person with the tattoos.

Some tattoo artists have sold their rights to firms which are now suing video game producers who depict the tattoos on the players likenesses:

The company Solid Oak Sketches obtained the copyrights for five tattoos on three basketball players — including the portrait and area code on Mr. James — before suing in 2016 because they were used in the NBA 2K series.

…Before filing its lawsuit, Solid Oak sought $819,500 for past infringement and proposed a $1.14 million deal for future use of the tattoos.

To avoid this shakedown, players are now being told to get licenses from artists before getting tattooed.


Our bio-engineering boffins don't yet merit their paychecks if they can't engineer TATTOOS FROM CONCEPTION (whether a parent or parents subscribe otherwise to "the natural method" or to "the scientific method").

(Extra points/bonuses for bio-engineering human skin that doesn't begin to spontaneously shrivel or shrink after a few decades of use.)

This is a legal problem. A problem of too many tort lawyers and too much money in these kinds of lawsuits. It can be fixed by limiting judgements to actual damage which in this case would be $0.

Sounds like a somatic problem centrally with some legal fluttering on the periphery.

Most of us most of the time are obliged to display logos and labels of apparel manufacturers (we PAY for the privilege of showing off their logos and labels): tattoo artistes can well begin inking copyright notices in fine print under or alongside their works while charging customers for the extra inkage, problems solved.

Only Jordin Sparks owns her tattoo.

Gotta love Jordin, like Kelly and Carrie, she was the best in her year of American Idol contestants.

Steve should write about her more!

And yes, no guy was the best in his American Idol year because real men do not do singing contests
can you imagine Sinatra or Perry Como asking Simon Cowell, oh so humbly, for advice?
The very idea is ludicrous

Alex, I mean, not Steve

This is as stupid as Canadian law being copyright of private entities.

The larger question is whether tattoos should be copyrightable in the first place. Fashion designs, for example, are not. More here, where I discuss the reciprocal nature of the tattoo problem:

Positional goods? I have never seen the appeal or the "status boost" that's supposed to come from getting them. Quite the opposite in fact, and I can tell you they cause all kinds of trouble in the service. Now you can add copyright to the long list of cons (pun sort of intended). Is the sex appeal (also super subjective) really that worth it?

Any MR readers with tattoos care to explain why?

I don't have them but know somebody who does. For them, it was mostly "I like this image as a piece of art, so I will get it as a tattoo", and not much else.

The only way this could be funnier is if the tattoo artist sued players for posting photos of themselves where the tattoo is visible.

I'm not sure why Alex is calling it a "shakedown". Back in 2011, a federal district court judge found that Mike Tyson's tattoo artist had a high likelihood of success in an infringement action against Warner Brothers leading the film company to settle.

As contributors of

Unique DNA designs

My parents had an intellectual property right to my body.

The intellectual property license terminated at 18 years.

'is that the copyright is inherently owned by the tattoo artist'

Well, apart from the concept of work for hire. Which is a distinct part of the entire framework of American copyright system, as noted here - 'Work for hire is a statutorily defined term (17 U.S.C. § 101), so a work for hire is not created merely because parties to an agreement state that the work is a work for hire. It is an exception to the general rule that the person who actually creates a work is the legally recognized author of that work. According to copyright law in the United States and certain other copyright jurisdictions, if a work is "made for hire", the employer—not the employee—is considered the legal author.'

One assumes that such contractual arrangements will become more common in the near future. with appropriate legal attention being paid to various details to ensure that a tattoo belongs to the person who paid for it, not the person that inked it.

And of course, copyright can be sold in the U.S., so demanding a copyright transfer as part of the contracted work on the tattoo may even be more straightforward - after all, copyright transfer is the way that this situation arose.

'players are now being told to get licenses from artists'

Which is poor advice - it is the copyright that is valuable, not a license. Unless you are the lawyer involved in handling the licensing, of course.

"to ensure that a tattoo belongs to the person who paid for it, not the person that inked it."

That could be a bit awkward re derivative works. The tattoo artist would be at risk if they ever make a 'substantially similar' design (the 'access' element is trivial here).

A better approach is a broad license. imho.

Future artistic creations, not just derivative works.

The imagine on the skin is almost always a copy or derived work. How many people tell the tatoo aartist: "here's $500, surprrise me"? Who owns a tatoo of a miltary symbol? The Marine who shows or draws the symbol, or more likely picks the rendering from the book of tatoos to be copied by the artist? Or the US, UK, etc government?

The tatooist is generally like the graphic novel or animated film inker, working under contract to replicate or complete the conception of someeone else. Do Disney inkers own the copyright?

>working under contract

Well now, there you go.

The Disney artist signs a contract relinquishing all rights to what he draws. The tattoo artist does not.

I first heard of this backwards, as is often the case on social media. A tattoo artist on Twitter said, to much agreement, that "your body is your body, not mine."

So this is probably one of those cases where a minority spoiler breaks social norms and upsets a working system.

Some judge should just rule that every tattoo is unique, a product of ink and flesh, and thus the owner has equal rights as creator.

The athletes whose body image is copied or mimicked by the software designer may have a claim, quite apart from the tattoo artist, which is getting a free ride on the likeness of the athlete.

Joint production problem.

Tatoo designer should pay athlete to display the tattoo, much like a billboard, to get others to demand the tattoo for themselves, and share in the revenue of a body image likeness of the athlete who is wearing the tattoo.

Life imitates art: see Saki's "The Background", published ca. 1912:

This is something I've been thinking and writing/speaking about for years. Imagine you create a drawing on paper. You own the copyright, including the right to create derivative works thereof. If I, a video game maker, copy that image into a game without your permission, I've infringed on your copyright and owe damages.

Now imagine instead that an athlete sees your work of art, likes it, and asks a tattoo artist to copy the image onto his forearm. Then the athlete's image, including the tattoo, is exploited in many different ways, including reproduction in video games.

At what point in this process did you, the original artist and copyright holder, lose the right to control the derivatives of your original work? How is it a shakedown if you ask for compensation for the infringement of your rights pursuant to the U.S. Copyright Act?

You should have copyrighted that remark, because it was good.

I believe, though. that the terms of usage of this website provide that all rights become those of the website owner.

Ha! I doubt it - in fact, I can't even find the TOU for this site, and the Privacy Policy link doesn't actually bring up the Privacy Policy. I actually write website TOUs and privacy policies so I'm kind of a nerd about this stuff.

The privacy policy is private, as is the TOU.

Only the pure of heart can see it.

Good to know! Now I can upcharge my clients for extra-private privacy policies.

Architects own your house plans. Not you. Even though you paid for them.

Does the facial appearance created by a cosmetic surgeon become his property? Is it possible to copyright that appearance? If not, why not? If the surgically created appearance of a fashion model enables her to gather income from her work wouldn't the surgeon be a stakeholder as well?

Why stop at plastic surgery? What about orthodontists making your teeth and jaw straight, and therefore more appealing in terms of potential job hiring? Why not dermatologists?

After all the bla bla blah about tattoos:

tatoos are stupid

Almost all will eventually regret getting them. There is a fortune to be made by anyone who develops a fast, painless, and cheap(but not too cheap)method to remove the unsightly things.

The guy in the picture is a billionaire and lately he has been complaining that the Team owners' are acting like "Slave Owners". That's enough to drive a whiteman into despair and recognize there's no hope for the future.

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