Licensing Tattoo Art of Celebrities for Profit
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you're probably tired of my tattoo copyright posts, but I just had to mention the latest news concerning the issue because it really doesn't sit well with me at all.
Forbes reported that one guy decided he could make money by taking the tattoos of celebrities and putting them on merchandise, so he hit up six tattooers of at least eight athletes, including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, and purchased exclusive licenses for the "art," including personal, custom work such as Bryant's wife's name, Vanessa, and a tattoo inspired by her hair (shown above).
Legally, I agree that the tattooists have the right to license the tattoo work, without an agreement in which they assign all the rights to the clients. Arguably, both the artist and the client can be joint owners in the tattoo art and would share any profit they make from the artwork, 50/50. I discuss this more in my last post on tattoo copyright and celebrities.
But, outside of the law, this kind of deal seems like a breach of the trust and respect between artist and client. Particularly in Bryant's case, these are works that have individual significance to the collector, a tribute to family and faith, and to commercialize it like this seems, well, gross. Just because it may be legal, doesn't make it right.
When I started writing about tattoo copyright ten years ago, my focus was on protecting artists from companies trying to appropriate tattoo artists' work for merchandise, media, etc, without permission. I had faith that the tattoo industry could police itself when it came to managing the rights to artwork among artists & clients themselves. [For an excellent article on tattoo copyright & self-governing in the tattoo industry, read Aaron Perzanowski's Tattoos & IP Norms.] However, tattoo ethics seem to face a tough fight when business men make big money promises for less-than-stellar artwork.
Maybe clients, especially celebrities, do need to be bringing contracts into their tattoo sessions if they don't want their custom tattoos blasted on hoodies and condom wrappers.