08:40 AM
nba2k16.jpgBack in February, I geeked out over the latest tattoo law news in "Videogame Maker Sued for Copyright Infringement Over Basketball Stars' Tattoos." As I wrote in that post, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York against Take-Two Interactive and other companies associated with the video game NBA 2K16 for reproducing the tattoos of the basketball stars featured in the game series without permission.

The suit was filed by Solid Oak Sketches, a company who licensed the tattoo designs from the following artists who tattooed stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant:  Justin Wright (LeBron James), Shawn Rome (LeBron James), Tommy Ray Cornett (Eric Bledsoe and Kenyon Martin), Robert Benedetti (Kobe Bryant), and Leslie Hennelly (DeAndre Jordan). In those licensing agreements, the tattooers agreed to
8% of the net earnings of Solid Oak for their designs.

A couple of weeks ago, a ruling came down concerning that suit, and among some tattooers talking about it, there was a bit of confusion, so I figured I'd break it down a bit here.

On August 2nd, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in Manhattan said that the videogame maker cannot be held liable to Solid Oak Sketches for statutory damages -- which could rack up as much as $150,000 per copyright infringement -- because Soild Oak did not register the tattoo designs with the US Copyright Office until 2015, years after the release of NBA 2K14 in 2013, when the alleged infringement of the tattoo designs began.

In order to obtain statutory damages and attorneys' fees, Solid Oak must have registered its copyright prior to the alleged infringement. Solid Oak argued that, because the NBA 2K16 version was released after copyright registration, they were still entitled to those statutory damages and attorneys' fees; however, the court didn't buy it, stating that "the first act of infringement in a series of ongoing infringements occurred prior to the work's copyright registration."

You can read that opinion and order here.

The Hollywood Reporter's article on the suit got some traction last week on social media, and that's where I found that some were confused about what the decision meant. The ruling does not mean that the court found that there was no copyright infringement, rather, they said that, because of when it was registered, Solid Oak and the artists were not going to get the really big money, which would have added up to a massive amount considering the number of tattoos represented in the games.

What Solid Oak and the artists are then left with is proving actual damages -- the money from demonstrated loss that they suffered as a result of the infringement, such as lost licensing revenue or any other provable financial loss directly attributable to the game's use of their artwork. That's tougher to do, but they could still see some decent money if the judge finds infringement.

The big argument of the defendant is that the use of tattoos seen on the bodies of the basketball stars is fair use and de minimis use. Stanford's general definition of fair use is "any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and 'transformative' purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner." And de minimis can be summed up as "the amount of material copied is so small (or 'de minimis') that the court permits it without even conducting a fair use analysis," as per this Stanford resource.

In their court filings, Take-Two asserts:

Indeed, if Solid Oak were correct, it would mean that anyone appearing in public, on a television program, or in an advertisement would need to license the display of their tattoos. This is not the law and, if it were, it would be an encroachment on basic human rights.
Take-Two also made some other interesting arguments which you can read here.

It's really a fascinating debate and I really can't wait till a court rules on it rather than the cases just settling, as what happened to the Mike Tyson Tattoo Case.

For more on my writing on tattoo copyright check these links:
12:36 PM
robot_tattoo.jpgTattoo headlines were ho-hum until this past week, when the news started covering interesting stories in tech, sports, politics, law, and fashion. Here are my favorites:

The story with the most coverage is the latest in robotic tattooing. Check this video (embedded below) "World's First Tattoo by Industrial Robot," in which French designers Pierre Emm and Johan da Silveira, along with Autodesk engineer David Thomasson, used 3D scanning tech, custom computer software, and an industrial robot to create a precision tattoo on real flesh. The designers told The Verge that the hardest part was adapting the robotic arm to work on the uneven surfaces of the human body. The Verge also reports that they plan to turn their project into a commercial operation. "It was not the goal in the beginning [...] But many of the tattoo artists and studios we have worked with along the way are impatient to get their hands on these machines." This isn't Emm and da Silviera's first foray into robotic tattooing: back in 2014, I wrote about their 3D printer tattoo machine. This latest project builds on that, kicking it up a notch. But really, no matter how precise, tattooing for me is also about that relationship between artist and client. That trust and bond is important, so I won't be giving that up soon for a straighter line.

Tattoos on Olympic athletes are also garnering tons of attention. The Washington Post tattoo slideshow is worth a look, and its particular focus is the exclusive Olympic Rings tattoo,"the one tattoo that only we can get," according to archer Brady Ellison. Another interesting note in the article is the story of how a British Paralympic swimmer was disqualified from a race in May because his Olympic rings tattoo was visible, violating an International Paralympic Committee swimming rule that clearly states, "Body advertisements are not allowed in any way whatsoever (this includes tattoos and symbols)." According to the Washington Post: "Technically, Paralympians compete under a different banner and for a different organization that features a different logo. To Paralympic officials, the Olympic rings were no different than a Nike swoosh. The International Olympic Committee has indicated that it has no plans to ban ink of the rings and has even expressed enthusiasm for athletes' marking their accomplishments in such an enduring way."

Also check this Kotaku article by Brian Ashcraft on how the multitude of tattooed Olympians, and their fans, will flood the next summer games in Japan, forcing the country to rethink its anti-tattooing laws and also people's perception of tattoos in general. The article also includes a number of personal pics of the athletes' tattoos.

My favorite article was on ancestral Maori tattoo traditions meets modern politics. Nanaia Mahuta is first female member of the New Zealand parliament to wear the moko kauae tattoo while in office.  According to, Mahuta stated that "it was time for New Zealand to accept that Maori traditions were strong and everlasting," adding:

I'm certain just as parliament sees the growing contribution that Maori are making in all places in all sorts of ways that it is a growing recognition that we are not going anywhere. We expect to see the way that we think,  the way that we celebrate and cherish our culture, our heritage and language and all things that are important is a key defining part in the way New Zealand continues to grow and that's got to be positive.

Here are some other links to check out:

* The NY Times looks at cover-ups in "A Face-Lift for Tattoos."

* Mexican prisoners are using their tattoo skills for purse designs.

* A judge causes controversy by allowing a make-up artist to cover a defendant's Neo-Nazi tattoos.

* And our friend Michele Myles of Daredevil Tattoo is featured in The Stir's "Lady Tattoo Artists We Love."

World's First Tattoo by Industrial Robot from Pier 9 on Vimeo.

07:39 AM
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The excellent Highlark Magazine has an interview with Zac Scheinbaum, who is part of the Kings Avenue Tattoo crew in NYC. Zac has a diverse portfolio, but I am particularly a fan his blackwork, which flows with different stylistic influences, from sacred geometry to traditional Americana motifs.

Highlark interviews Zac about his work and upcoming projects. Here's a taste from their Q&A:

A lot of your imagery could be described as macabre- what, in your opinion, draws people to expressing these themes of life and death in tattoo form, and how do you personally approach those themes as an artist?

A lot of clients come in and say, "Man I really like that heavy black, that super dark work you do." In all truth, I just posted a picture of a huge dark snake I did on a close friend. We had to make the snake so dark in order to cover up some script that went across his chest. I had done that script also years before so it was in a way sort of a favor. When he came in, I was at SAVED at the time, and Anderson Luna, was like "You should do a massive black snake over that." That's what surprises me about the internet, you show a piece of art, or tattoo, and sometimes it just sort of explodes. So by doing that and other predominantly black and grey work, I think it lends itself well to that imagery.

I've always been more interested in works of art, especially religious or some older European paintings because they weren't afraid to depict brutality or violence or swords etc.. And as a kid being dragged to museums, I found those incredibly stimulating. Now I'm so thankful for those times! Ha! Then you start seeing as you explore more and more into the art world how other cultures interpret those things, or the stories or myths that go along with them.

Read more of the interview here and also check the cool stop-motion video they made of a session with Zac (embedded below).

See more of Zac's work on his site and on Instagram.

07:26 AM
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I really enjoyed this installment of the the Proust Questionnaire for Tattoo Artists with multidisciplinary artist Michael Kortez. Michael's work infuses Cubism, Pop Art, Surrealism and Traditional Tattooing styles into his own unique portfolio. You can find him tattooing at Tattoo Mania in West Hollywood, California.

For this Q&A, Michael offers some insight into the man behind the artwork.

What is your current state of mind?
Trying to be open for growth and ready for anything.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness is waking up everyday and doing exactly what I want to do.

What is your greatest fear?
Losing the rest of my eyesight. I use bottle cap glasses.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Which living person do you most admire?
Tattoo Godmother Shanghai Kate.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I'm a Cancer, so my sensitivity.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

What is your greatest extravagance?
I spend a lot of money on records, movies and Beatles Boots.

What is your favorite journey?
Traveling to Europe was a blast...I look forward to going back at some point.

What is your most treasured possession?
Pictures of my father. There are only 3 in existence.

When and where were you happiest?
Here and Now.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would give myself a quicker wit.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Becoming a professional artist.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

The ninth circle of hell.

What is your most marked characteristic?
My enthusiasm.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Holden Caulfield.

How would you like to die?
In my sleep, dreaming.

What is your motto?
EVER FORWARD...Nothing can stop you.

See more of Michael's work on Instagram.

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07:56 AM

Past posts on stick & poke tattoos -- particularly the sale of commercial stick & poke kits -- have led to some interesting debates, and I'm guessing this video on The Dirty Poke, a backyard stick-and-poke tattoo shed, will lead to one too.

The Dirty Poke was a month-long art show/tattoo shop in a converted tool shed in Mount Washington, Los Angeles.  On Sundays, the artists gave hand-poked, as well as machine, tattoos of "imagery related to the rustic side of LA Life."

A lot of what you see in the video are those hipster "I don't care if it's dumb and shitty" tattoos, and the artists featured, Matthew Johnson and Joel Kyack, take an irreverent approach to tattooing, which may annoy some, particularly when Matt characterizes tattoos as bad decisions.

Like many who preach the democratization of tattooing through stick & pokes, Joel talks about how anyone can do a handpoke and how he teaches others by using his body as their scratchpad. There's no discussion of health and hygiene, but that doesn't make for a fun video anyway. And whatever you think of the discussion, the video is pretty fun, and Super Deluxe did a good job with it. Worth a look.

For a more serious look at hand tattooing and some artful examples, check this post on Handpoke Tattoo: 23 Artists' Words and Ink.
09:41 AM
HR Giger Empire State Tattoo.jpgThe NY Empire State Tattoo Expo kicks off tomorrow, and I'm excited to take my baby bump over there to have fun at the show (not working! yeah!). It'll also be my husband's first tattoo convention -- he's already studied "How Not To Get a Tattoo at a Convention" - and so I'm lining up a list of highlights, kind of like a convention plan of attack.

The first thing on my attack list is to view the art of one of tattooing's greatest artistic influences: H.R. Giger. While his legacy in pop culture is his acclaim for designing the Alien creature, for the tattoo community, he inspired a whole stylistic genre: biomechanical tattoo design -- art that conveys man and machine fused in surrealist dreamscapes.

The H.R. Giger works on view will be Harkonnen Chair, the Nubian Queen, and the Birthmachine Baby sculptures.

On the last day of the show, Sunday, July 17th, at 5pm, there will be a contest for the best H.R. Giger Inspired Tattoo (like the one shown below). The prizes are stellar: 
1st Place Winner will receive the Tattoo Biomechanoid, a Limited Edition Giger sculpture; and the 2nd Place Winner will receive the Tattoo Biomechanoid Ring, also designed by Giger.

Once we've checked Giger off our convention To Do list, we'll be checking out the other tattoo competitions, viewing portfolios of the top artists in attendance, and buying lots of cool stuff (including tattoo baby clothes!). For tattoo artists, the seminars are a must-see, with the very best in the industry sharing their secrets. 

I'll be posting photos from the show on my Instagram and later on the blog. Hope to see you there!

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H.R. Giger inspired tattoo by Paul Booth.
07:47 AM
ancient tattoos.pngSome interesting news on the ancient tattoo front: a new study found that 3,000-year-old chips of volcanic glass were used to tattoo in the South Pacific -- and these tools may offer greater insight into ancient tattooing practice. 

The study, recently published in the August 2016 Journal of Archaeological Science, is entitled "Detecting early tattooing in the Pacific region through experimental usewear and residue analyses of obsidian tools," and conducted by Nina Kononenkoa, Robin Torrencea, and Peter Sheppard.

Live Science breaks the study down:

The scientists analyzed 15 obsidian artifacts recovered from the Nanggu site in the Solomon Islands. (Obsidian is a dark natural glass that forms when lava cools.) The creators of these artifacts, which are at least 3,000 years old, reshaped naturally occurring obsidian flakes so that each possessed a short, point on its edge, the researchers said. To create a tattoo, the surface of the skin must be broken so that pigment can be embedded and thus remain under the skin permanently after the wound heals. In 2015, the researchers performed 26 tattooing experiments with pigskin, using black charcoal pigment and red ochre dye, over the course of about four months. They used obsidian tools that copied the size and shape of the ancient artifacts from Nanggu.

When the scientists compared the ancient Nanggu artifacts with those used in the experiments, they found that both sets of tools had similar signs of wear and tear, such as microscopic chipping, rounding and blunting of the edges, and thin scratches. They also detected residues of blood, charcoal and ochre on the Nanggu artifacts.

"The research demonstrates the antiquity and significance of human body decoration by tattooing as a cultural tradition amongst the earliest settlers of Oceania," Torrence said.

On, there's further discussion of the study, including on the types of tattooing techniques in the islands: "One was to make incisions and rub pigment into the skin. Another was to sketch the design on the skin in charcoal or ochre pigments and then make incisions. Another was to pierce the skin, either with the pigment on the point of the tool or on the skin."

For further reading regarding tattooing on the Solomon Islands, Ancient Origins also points to our friend Lars Krutak, tattoo anthropologist, and his article online entitled The Art of Nature: Tattoo History of Western Oceania. While you're on Lar's site, you can check more on ancient as well as contemporary tattooing.
07:04 AM
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Our friend Demetra Molina of The Hand of Fate Tattoo wrote a great primer called "How to Get a Tattoo at a Tattoo Convention," following her time at Art Tattoo Quebec (where she got tattooed by Kaija Heightland, as shown above).

A number points that Demetra lists are common courtesy and common sense acts, but after seeing some very bad behavior at conventions worldwide over the years, it definitely warrants mentioning.

It's this bad behavior that has inspired me to add to Demetra's list, but more in the vein of how NOT to get a tattoo at a show.

* Don't price compare: Going from booth to booth, asking artists to price the Pinterest tattoo on your phone screen to get the best deal will not just get you a bad tattoo, it may just get you smacked. Even setting aside the "Good tattoos ain't cheap, cheap tattoos ain't good" ethos, conventions aren't Priceline, where you and William Shatner can name your own price. I watched a kid at one of the Milan tattoo shows almost get ejected from trying to haggle a price of a neo-tribal down a convention row. Don't be that guy.

* Don't be ashamed of your budget:  It's cool to be upfront about your budget and ask what the artist can do in that budget (if reasonable). I had a friend who wanted so badly to get tattooed at last year's Empire State Convention as a souvenir of his first show, but only had $150. He wanted an Americana piece and approached artists who were doing walk-up flash to see if he can get anything for what he could afford. I watched the first artist he approached (in a respectful way) be a total dick and scoff at doing anything for that budget. [I won't name the artist but I will never recommend him again.] Convention booths are very expensive, so it is completely reasonable for artists to have a minimum to make up the costs of the show (and travel, etc).  Not reasonable, however, to be an asshole about it. My friend eventually found a great artist to work within his budget and has gone back to the same artist for more work since.

* Don't expect the drawing in advance of your appointment: As Demetra writes on the design process, "Some artists will prefer to do a pre-drawing and use a stencil, others might free hand a design directly on skin with markers." It's natural to want a peak of your custom design if the artist will be sketching out your work in advance of the appointment, but many artists will not email or hand you the design prior to meeting and that's because there are too many shady people who will pay a small deposit, have a top artist design the tattoo, and then they'll cancel the actual tattoo appointment and bring the design to a cheaper artist. Who would do such a thing? LOTS! In fact, I know first hand of one tattooer who did it to another (for a facial tattoo!). So keep that in mind if you're asked to wait until the convention to get a look at the design.

* Don't be drunk at your appointment. Demetra mentions the No Booze rule for clients. I'm mentioning it for artists. I was once told, "Tattoo conventions are the best places to get the worst tattoos by the best artists." And that can be very true. Conventions are a party. That's why I love them. But if someone is throwing down a lot of cash to get tattooed by you, at least wait to go wild at the final after-party when there's no work the next day. Of course, if you're in the hotel room giving each other free drunken tattoos, well, then you're clear, ethically.

* Don't come with your squad. Despite being expensive for artists, convention booths are often really small and can barely accommodate you, the artist and supplies. They cannot accommodate your crew. Roll twenty deep at the club later on.

* Don't let your Selfie Stick come between you and the tattoo. Your primary goal is to get a good tattoo, not more Snapchat followers. Save your rainbow puke filters until after your session.

* Don't be too serious. You're getting a tattoo! Yeah! Don't worry about being too cool, too tough, too artsy, too whatever. Enjoy the process and also enjoy the show. Smile. Make friends. Make eye contact with that cutie. Maybe you'll take something more than a tattoo home.

What's your tattoo show advice? Share on our Needles & Sins FB group or Tweet at me.
12:03 PM
bigboypinups.pngBig Boy Pinups above by Jamie August.

There have been some really fun & interesting recent tattoo headlines that I'm excited to share, from the heart warming to head shaking, pin-ups to penis tattoos. Take a look ...

First up, I'm loving the Big Boy Pinups (shown above) by Jamie August of Blue Lady tattoos in Melbourne. Instinct Magazine featured her work this weekend, highlighting her reinvention of classic Sailor Jerry flash, morphing designs from buxom to brawny. Jamie keeps to the "bold will hold" traditions with a sense of humor and wink. She has some flash-styled prints for sale online here.

Moving from pin-ups to penises, yesterday, Vice posted "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Penis Tattoos," which is exactly as you would imagine. I was impressed that the subject was handled seriously. I would have been tempted to throw in too many sad jokes. And I actually learned some things:
  • An "informal survey" of NYC tattoo studios found that most artists here will not tattoo penises, and if they do, they would charge a sizable "handling fee."
  • You do not need an erection to get a penis tattoo.
  • There often isn't a huge difference in the look of the tattoo when they are hard or soft.
  • Tattooer Luke Wessman has a penis tattoo that says, "Hubba hubba." He also has done one penis tattoo and advises other artists "to factor in the whole accordion feature" when doing these tattoos.
  • Laser removal of a penis tattoo is excrutiating, but you don't need that many sessions because it's near the lymphatic system.
There ya go. Don't you feel smarter knowing all this?

In more serious news, a new "Safer Tattoo" public awareness campaign in Germany has recently been launched by members of the Federal Tattoo Association (BVT) in Berlin and Consumer Affairs Minister Christian Schmidt. Minister Schmidt is also advocating for Europe-wide regulations on chemical substances in tattooing, which has been getting more attention on the European-wide level, with calls for greater safety studies of tattoo inks. According to, "Both Schmidt and the BVT are calling for the introduction of professional certification for tattoo artists in Germany. Currently, tattoo artistry is not a state-recognized vocational career which means its practitioners are not required to undergo training." A fun data point in the article (although the source is not mentioned): "Over six million people in Germany have tattoos and almost 25 percent of people under 30 have one."

In Vietnam, Hanoi is experiencing a "tattoo renaissance," according to This feature is inspired by Hanoi's first tattoo festival, which took place this weekend. A video report accompanies the article and shows a packed convention floor, with artists working in a variety of styles and close-ups on some impressive large-scale pieces. As the article notes, in Vietnam, tattooing is legal but there are no specific regulations or licenses that govern tattooing and it is largely self-regulated. Read more for first-hand accounts of local Hanoi tattooists talking about their industry.

JR-Tattoo-Tee_large.jpgOn the ridiculous front, Cleveland-based company Fresh Brewed Tees did a mock-up shirt featuring basketball star J.R. Smith's tattooed torso as a joke. Well, the shirt went viral and in-demand, leaving the company no choice but to sell it to the public (for $34.99). [See above.] But despite the humor behind it all, they were smart about it. They got permission from Smith and his tattooist Jayme "Bone" Faulkner of Flaming Ink Tattoos in Los Angeles, who did most of Smith's chest. [Smith's back was done by another artist, but Smith said that artist had died.] Two logo tattoos had to be obscured though. Yup, they definitely had lawyers in on this so the joke won't be on them.   

Finally, on the heartwarming tip, this story got tons of traction in news outlets and across social media, but in case you haven't seen it, check this beautiful story of how one father got a scar tattoo to match his son's very real brain surgery scar. Eight-year-old Gabriel Marshall was feeling "like a monster" due to the large scar left on the side of his head after an operation to remove a brain tumor, and so his father Josh got a tattoo to mirror the scar "to take away some of the stares or attention from him." The tattoo went viral after Josh won the annual Best Bald Dad contest, held by St. Baldrick's, a childhood cancer charity. A great story story and a much deserved win.

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07:39 AM

On social media, this wonderful video on a woman "coming out" to her parents about her tattoos is making the rounds these days, even though it was published back in September. I missed it then, so I'm glad it's still being shared. It's a fun, beautifully produced This American Life piece, and its message resonated a lot with me.

Back when I first started writing about tattoos online, about 13 years ago, there was much more discussion about dealing with family disapproval of tattoos and seeking acceptance from them. Today, of course, the more common discussion is what Mother-Daughter tattoo to pick out on Pinterest.

But that fear of disapproval still exists. In the film, Maggie, a heavily tattooed daughter of conservative Christians, frets over her what her parents' reaction will be when they find out about her tattoos. This video is the the big reveal to them (complete with choir songs and a priest weighing in). You can see just how nervous this adult woman is to share something so personal and important to her. I got it. I was Maggie. Sometimes I'm still Maggie.  

As a daughter of a conservative Greek father, the big question that has hung over my head since birth is Ti tha pei o kosmos? that is, What will people think?" My dad was a ship captain and would say, "Captains don't get tattoos, sailors get them." Sailors and whores. My parents spent a lot of time and money educating me so that I'd be held in societal regard here in the US. The irony is not lost that I became a lawyer, the most hated profession in the country. Add the whole tattoo layer over that, and their princess wound up a pariah.

The tattoos are a big part of who I am, though. Tattoos were the first time I felt that I really did something solely for me. It was how I wanted to look, not what I was expected to look like. Tattoos were very real steps in being an individual, separating myself from a tight feta-eating clan.

I love my feta-eating clan, and it was hard disappointing them. But they love me too. And, when they realized how much happier I was being part of this art (among my other "weird" passions), they got over what others would think [well, mostly].  Before they could do that, though, I had to really show love to myself first. [*Cue Whitney Houston ballad.*]

I wanted to share this video on Maggie because its cool, and because it got me thinking a lot about self-acceptance. With NYC Pride weekend kicking off today, the timing seems right too. It really is a time to celebrate love, whomever you chose to love, just as long as you show some love to your own fine self.
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