Tattoo Copyright in Total Tattoo
In the latest edition of the UK's Total Tattoo Magazine (May 2014), you'll find my "Who Owns Your Tattoo?" article, this time looking at the issue through the UK's Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA). The title may evoke thoughts of some dystopian universe where evil tattooist overlords dictate what people do with their bodies; however, the article is really about when tattoos are used for a purpose other than being worn proudly. It's not too long and touches on only basic points, but the goal is to get people thinking about these concepts.
I'm also not that familiar with the CDPA, so I contacted an expert, Catherine Jasserand, PhD researcher at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, to ask her her thoughts on copyright as it relates to custom tattoo designs. I posed this question to her: "If a customer comes to a tattoo studio with an idea but not a design, and the tattoo artist creates an original work for the customer and then tattoos it, who would own the design (if there is no agreement between them)? The artist? The client? Both of them?"
Catherine shared these thoughts for the article:
"An idea in itself is not protectable. If the client gives very vague instructions, then it is doubtful that he or she could be considered as a joint author. However, if client is contributing to the tattoo and decides on important elements such as the composition, shape and so on, I believe it could be argued that the client and tattoo artist could share authorship. In the end, what is important is to question the level of freedom that the tattoo artist has in the execution of the 'design' and which level of creativity is she using."Jasserand also noted that, even if the client pays the tattoo artist, the payment does not mean that copyright on the tattoo is automatically transferred to the client. According to the Intellectual Property Office, the official government body responsible for granting Intellectual Property (IP) rights in the UK, "When you ask or commission another person or organisation to create a copyright work for you, the first legal owner of copyright is the person or organisation that created the work and not you the commissioner, unless you otherwise agree it in writing."
For the full article, pick up Total Tattoo (which you can also find on US newsstands) or download a digital copy.
Outside of the article, Catherine and I also chatted a bit about common copyright issues relating to tattoos on continental Europe, so hopefully I'll get to further explore that sometime soon.
For more on my writing on tattoo copyright in the US check these links: