Tattoo Copyright Laws in Oregon
“Of course tattoos can be copyrighted.”
–Judge Catehrine D. Perry, U.S. District Court Judge, Whitmill v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (2011)
In copyright law, there is nearly always a distinction to be made between the “thing” and the “copyright” itself. You might think of the “thing” as the canvas and the copyright as the expression of that idea (“the picture, design, painting, or the content” that is imprinted on the canvas).
To illustrate: A person happened to get a hold of a Mark Twain manuscript, and later wished to make some money. Could he sell the actual manuscript? Yes. Could he reprint, reproduce, the content? No. Why? He owned the manuscript (the thing, the canvas), but not the copyright (the content, the idea, the expression).
The same principle is at work with a tattoo
The Hangover II Suit – Copyright Protects a Tattoo Artist through the Artist’s
A recent case is illustrative. A Missouri tattoo artist, Mr. Whitmill, created and inked Mike Tyson’s
There’s several lessons and takeaways from this case of which artists, creators, or designers are well advised to practice regarding copyright:
1. Use contracts to define property rights with your clients, customers, or those who buy your work. The tattoo artist did this at the time, and expressly retained ownership of the copyright by contract. This was a smart move because it clearly defined where the tattoo artist and his client, Mike Tyson, stood and who owned what; it created a reliable record for future use (here, litigation, though it was also proof for marketing and portfolio purposes). Investing in an attorney as a business expense (which you can write off) to draft an Oregon business contract is a very good investment because it’s the equivalent of having a rental agreement for a landlord. The copyright is your property, and your ROI and your ability to control and protect your art depends on how you manage that property.
2. Copyright Protections can be quite strong, protecting artists and their work–even against very powerful players, such as hollywood movie studios and large entities. The artist was able to settle this case for undoubtedly a good sum. Copyright protections can also and often include temporary or permanent injunctions (a judicial order that restrains a person from taking an action that invades the legal rights of another–or colloquially put: stop, drop, shut ‘em down, open up shop).
3. What the artist could have done better, legally speaking: Because this tattoo design was for a famous person, the tattoo artist should have registered it from the
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Very truly yours,
Timothy D. LaBadie | Attorney at Law | J.D., M.B.A.