Next Sunday, June 2nd, I'll be giving a Tattoo Law Talk, after the Bloodborne Pathogens Training, at Sacred Tattoo at 424 Broadway, NY in SoHo. The training -- which will satisfy artists yearly OSHA requirement -- runs from 1 to 3:30pm. And my talk is from 4-5pm.
You can attend both or just come in for one of the classes. The best part: it's only $40. When was the last time a lawyer talked to you for so little?!
I'll be giving an overview of the top tattoo law issues facing studios, artists and collectors as well. My talk will cover the following:
You can reserve your spot via Unimax Supply here. Hope to see you Sunday, June 2nd!
Earlier this month, tattoo news headlines included a story of how an Australian politician proposed a ridiculous anti-tattoo law that seemed like the work of another conservative crackpot. However, it turns out, that it is indeed something to pay attention to and fight. Sharron Campbell, a solicitor in Queensland, who works in privacy and information rights, explains here how serious this issue is and how all of us around the world can get involved.
By Sharron Campbell
Down in Queensland--land of beers, barbies, and shrimps to throw on them--a politician has proposed that anyone who gets a tattoo should be registered with the government. He thinks this will somehow stop bikie gang money laundering. Natural first reaction is to laugh: a law that ridiculous could never happen, right?
Australia has limited rights to free speech, there's no Bill of Rights, there's no general right to privacy. And in New South Wales, the State just south of Queensland, they passed laws just as bad as what's been proposed.
If you want to tattoo in NSW, you have to:
Once the wheels of government start grinding out a Bill it will be too late to stop it. Wherever you are in the world you can help, before it's law, before it goes any further, by telling the Queensland government this is not okay.
Find out how at www.tattoosarenotacrime.net.
I had a wonderful time yesterday at Fordham Law School for the Fashion Law Institute's discussion entitled Art Attacks: Perspectives on the Use of Fashion Logos, where I chatted on their panel along with Ralph Lauren's in-house counsel Anna Dalla Val; brand consultant and former in-house counsel of Louis Vuitton, Michael Pantalony; and David De Buck, owner of the De Buck Gallery, whose roster includes prominent street artists. The panel -- and the Fashion Law Institute as a whole -- is the brainchild of Susan Scafidi, whom I've had a law nerd crush on for a long time after discovering her fantastic blog, Counterfeit Chic, many years ago. She's a pioneer in fashion law, which -- like tattoo law -- is constantly developing and is pretty exciting.
The focus of the discussion was fashion logos and their appropriation in art as well as commerce. Naturally, I gave the tattoo perspective. As requested in our Facebook group, I'll give y'all a taste of my talk.
But before we get to it ... What is a Trademark or Servicemark?
Ok, with that in mind, I started my talk off with the very first tattoo to be issued a registration by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Master piercer Elayne Angel's famous wings backpiece, tattooed by the infamous Bob Roberts in 1987 -- a tattoo that inspiring a myriad of copies throughout the world.
Those wings just didn't become easily identifiable with Elayne, but her piercing services and Rings of Desire studio in New Orleans (which closed post-Katrina). It was Elayne's brand.
In 2003, when I wrote "The Tattoo Copyright Controversy," I interviewed Elayne about her servicemarked tattoo, which had been registered the year before. She explained that a customer, who was a lawyer, told her that he felt her wings were recognizable enough -- in relation to her as a professional piercer -- that protection was warranted. The process took six years but, on November 5, 2002, her backpiece was registered. It was not just the first tattoo registered, but it is believed to be the first feature of the human body to be registered. Cool!
But then I turned my discussion to people who get the brands of others on their bodies. People like the Gucci face guy or the Louis Vuitton sleeve dude below.
I tried to get in touch with these logo lovers, but to no avail, so I put out a call on the Facebook group page asking people to tell me about their logo tattoos. I'm grateful for all the responses. Many of y'all have band tattoos and great stories behind them, but as the focus was fashion for the panel, I was particularly interested in the story of talented tattooist Ania Jalosinska, of Kolektiv Tattoo in Warsaw, Poland.
Ania wears the United Nude logo and shoe design, which you can see here. The work was designed and tattooed by JEF. Here's what she said about it:
It says nothing more then a total loyalty, love and appreciation of a brand. Their shoe design is brilliant, both from an aesthetics standpoint and engineering standpoint. Getting a logo wasn't an initial idea; I wanted a leg on a side of my leg, but since I love UN shoes and wear them all the time, it was a no brainer what shoe the leg will wear. Their logo is just one of the graphic elements, which I also put in there because, as a tattoo artist and a graphic designer, I do appreciate design of it as well.I also think the Coco Chanel quote, "Elegance is refusal," is a nice touch to the tattoo.
Naturally, I also had to talk about how some brands are banking on tattoo cool in their marketing, like Marc Ecko's Branded for Life promo, where those who get Ecko logo tattoos also get "20% off For Life" on Ecko merch. When I first heard about the promo, I really couldn't imagine anyone would buy into it. I was really, really wrong. The Ecko tattoo fan gallery goes on for pages, filled with thumbnails of the tattoos like those shown below.
In the Ecko case, the brand courts the tattooed masses.
But what about luxury brands?
Do they want the great tattooed unwashed repping their fashion houses?
And if they don't, what can they do about?
Simply wearing the logo will not necessarily get you in trouble as there's little "likelihood of confusion," whereby, one could believe that the brand sponsored or is associated the wearer of the logo tattoo. Do we really look at the Gucci face guy and think he really is the new face of the brand?
Then there's the argument of "trademark dilution," in which the brand believes that the tattoos would "tarnish" their identity by presenting it in an inferior light or associated with "unseemly services." It's a fun legal argument, but practically, I don't think we have to worry about Louis Vuitton going after our skins.
I ended my presentation by acknowledging the power of logo tattoos and the desire to brand oneself with a brand that speaks to them, which can be beautiful. Of course, I couldn't help but note that we should also honor our very own identities, and like a couture gown, get a work of art that is specifically tailored to our own bodies.
Like everything else on this blog, it's not intended as legal advice. Just my personal blah blah.
Backpiece by Tim Kern.
Tattooing got another huge legal boost on Friday when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that tattooing is free speech in the zoning case of Coleman v. City of Mesa (link to decision). This is the first time in the United States that a state supreme court has extended First Amendment protections to tattooing.
A federal court, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled in 2010 that "tattooing is purely expressive activity fully protected by the First Amendment" in the case of Johnny Anderson v. City of Hermosa Beach, which was also a case where tattooists were denied the right to open up shop due to zoning restrictions. [My giddy discussion of that case can be found here.]
The Arizona Supreme Court noted that courts have been divided on the issue of tattooing being constitutionally protected expression (and gave example of different cases) but found that "the approach adopted in Anderson is most consistent with First Amendment case law and the free speech protections under Arizona's Constitution."
In both the Coleman and Andersen cases, the courts found that, not only tattoos but the process of tattooing, and therefore, the business of tattooing are protected speech. The Arizona Supreme Court also noted that this protection applies even if an artist is using "standard designs or patterns" like flash, just as cable TV companies are "engaged in protected speech activities even when they only select programming originally produced by others" (citing Turner Broad. Sys., Inc. v. FCC).
This is a win for the Colemans but the fight isn't over. The case now goes back to the superior court, which originally dismissed the tattooists' claims as a matter of law saying that the Mesa City Council decision in 2009 to deny the Colemans a permit to open their tattoo shop was "a reasonable and rational regulation of land use." The Colemans appealed and the Arizona Appeals Court overturned the Superior Court's dismissal finding that they should have had the opportunity to make their case. The City of Mesa appealed that, which is how the case found its way to the Arizona Supreme Court.
The Superior Court will now look at whether the decision to deny the permit served a compelling governmental interest and was reasonably related to furthering that interest. Local government does have an interest in regulating tattooing by protecting the health and safety of the public. The issue is whether the rules further that purpose.
In this case, the Mesa planning board had recommended that the Colemans be given a permit subject to certain conditions, like limiting the hours of operation, loitering, refusing to do racist and gang tattoos, and also working with police to identify known gang tattoos. They agreed to those conditions. But the Mesa City Council denied the permit, according to the Yuma Sun, "after hearing concerns from neighbors about the shop possibly drawing crime and reducing property values. Only Mayor Scott Smith was in support." Now Mesa needs to show that this decision was not arbitrary and irrational and did not go against the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Constitution.
I'm guessing, or at least hope, that this case will settle. The tax payers of Mesa have already spent enough money on trying to stop a business from opening, when all a long they could have taxed them and gained revenue for the city -- and also made Mesa more artful.
Misspelled tattoos are not uncommon. Sadly. And unlike the many
In Canada's National Post yesterday, Armina Ligaya reports on a memorial tattoo gone wrong where a Nova Scotia small claims court ordered a shop to pay almost $9,000 to a client for laser sessions, travel and legal fees, and general damages. This is after the shop offered to cover up the spelling mistake -- which the client refused -- and then paid for eight laser sessions prior to the judgment.
The problem is that the studio stopped paying for the laser sessions, which is what sparked the suit. Personally (not in my legal opinion), if a shop is going to make amends for a mistake, it should do so in a clear and organized way, following through on promises, which should be written out and agreed to by the parties. For example, knowing how long and expensive laser removal can be, the studio could have limited its obligation by offering to pay for a set number of sessions -- say 10 to 12 sessions -- or until a certain percentage of the ink is gone. Then they could have had the client agree not pursue further action against the shop after those sessions. Everybody signs. Everybody knows what to expect. And hopefully, everybody abides by the agreement.
The client, who had the opportunity to review the lettering before it was tattooed, should also burden some responsibility, and maybe that's what the studio was thinking when they stopped paying. In fact, the article cites another Nova Scotia case where a judge ruled that a client with a misspelled tattoo was "the author of her own misfortune" when she reviewed the design on a computer design and stencil, and did not pick up the mistake.
But not returning the client's phone calls, as alleged, is not the right way to do business. People sue when they are unhappy and feel they're being mistreated. So many law suits can be avoided by better handling of client issues ... and of course, spell check.
Photo by Edgar Hoill
The long-debated issue within the tattoo community of regulating tattoo ink was recently discussed in this Chemistry World article, which is worth a quick read.
Generally, there's little to no regulation of tattoo inks in the US & UK, and it's largely self-policed. The big brands offer MSDS (Material Safety Date Sheets) to let you know what's in them. Here are some links to check those sheets for yourself: Intenze, Starbrite, and Eternal Ink. [Note the California-mandated warning on Papillon Tattoo Supply that states metals and toxic chemicals may be contained in inks -- although not specific to any brand.]
The debate tends to be whether self-regulation is better than that by the government. In the article, Alan Beswick, of the UK Health and Safety Laboratory says that perhaps it's better to keep it within the industry:
Beswick is keen to stress that he is wary of promoting regulation that would compel tattooists perform expensive testing on the dyes they purchase. 'I believe, and this is the case in many industries, that quality standards are raised from within and if clients and users of the inks start to ask questions of the suppliers then the chances are that those suppliers will have to up their game.'An argument against this, however, is that the market is flooded with ink suppliers from all over the world not taking the same precautions as the long-standing reputable brands. Pat Fish, whom I interviewed for Inked mag, says she won't use color inks anymore because she doesn't trust them, citing fungus found in batches of even famous inks. There are interesting arguments on both sides.
While there hasn't been an epidemic of poisoned tattoo collectors, many people do indeed have serious reactions, especially to certain colors. So you could ask your artist about the MSDS sheets if you're concerned. You may come off as a little uptight to some, but as Beswick notes above, it may encourage more artists, and then companies, to pay attention to what you're putting into your skin.
I've been called a Harpy. A pariah. A vampire sucking the soul of tattoo culture.
There are probably many other reasons for them, but often the context of such compliments are my writings on tattoo copyright.
During the legal circus surrounding the Mike Tyson tattoo in "The Hangover" film, which later settled between the tattooist and Warner Bros., I wrote about copyright particularly in light of this law suit.
I revisited this case in the March issue of Inked magazine, but also discussed further issues in tattoo copyright. Now that full article is available online for free. [For some reason, Inked decided to illustrate the article with tattooed boobs and butts, perhaps because they thought no one would read it.]
Entitled "Who Owns Your Tattoo?", the title and opening are intended to spark a bit of controversy. It starts off like this:
If you think that you alone have the rights to your own skin, you may be wrong. The idea of another person, or even a corporation, claiming ownership over your body may seem absurd, but as recent lawsuits for copyright infringement of tattoo art have implied, the courts could very well decide who gets a piece of you tomorrow.See what I mean? Harpy-like.
But beyond being controversial, there's serious talk about Fair Use, Work for Hire, Rights of Publicity, and Licensing. [In fact, licensing the artwork of tattooists has been a big part of my own legal practice lately.]
Check out the article and feel free to offer your thoughts via our Needles & Sins Group on Facebook or Twitter.
I've been meaning to post this excellent Miami New Times article on Florida's tattoo laws sooner but my own legal work took over last week. The story raises so many interesting issues on the regulation of the industry, which warrant serious discussion, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on our Facebook group page or via Twitter.
Reporter Chris Sweeney discusses the history and implementation of "The Practice of Tattooing," which went into effect January 1st. But even more interesting are the different factions of tattooers for and against enforcement of the law. Chris begins the article by setting the scene of a scratcher, Louie, tattooing a howling woman in his apartment. The woman's boyfriend had just gotten tattooed as well and is sleeping off the pain under a SpongeBob blanket. The family schnauzer roams into the room, looking for attention. Taking a break, putting his machine on a folding snack table (with a blue medical napkin on it), Louie grabs a Bud Light Platinum and tells his wife and daughter, "She's gonna take a crap when she sees how awesome this is."
That's all set out in the first three paragraphs of this 5-page article, and I'm already scared shitless. Maybe it's because Louie doesn't have an autoclave and operates in an unsterile environment. Or that people off of Craigslist come to him -- when he's not working at the hardware store -- to "salvage" the already bad tattoos they have, as you can see from the hot mess above. But what bothers me most are that there are tons of Louie's out there putting people at risk for more than just a shitty tattoo.
As Chris reports, the Center for Disease Control released a review of studies that found "no definitive evidence for an increased risk of HCV infection when tattoos and piercings were received in professional parlors." BUT the risk was "two- to three-times higher risk for HCV infection when the tattoo was received in a nonprofessional setting."
The new Florida law would make Louie's operation a second-degree misdemeanor (a felony if charged three times) and he could be fined $1,500 per violation. The law requires a yearly tattoo license for artists and shop registration, a 70% score on a blood-borne pathogens exam, and the studio must pass inspection by its county health department. No animals, no sleeping quarters, and there's got to be a working autoclave.
Most professional tattooists wouldn't have a problem with such regulations, especially compared to the previous law, which required shops to be under "direct supervision" (later changed to "general supervision") of a physician. Where the controversy really lies, as detailed in the article, is in its enforcement.
Tom Meyer, President of the Florida Tattoo Artist's Guild says his organization will work with health officials to crack down on violators:
"The big thing with the new law is it's all complaint-driven," [...] "So now, every time people come in with bad tattoos or tattoo infections, we as professional, legitimate shops will get as much information as we can on who did it and give that information to the health department or local police."Tom adds that this is all necessary to protect professional tattooing as a "viable livelihood." But other artists quoted in the article disagree with tattooists "ratting" each other out. Many expressed that self-regulation of the industry -- and just being a better tattooist -- is the best way to keep tattooing viable. In fact, some professional tattooers like Stevie Moon are seriously pissed off about this:
"You're supposed to help your brethren, not fucking burn them down," [...] "This is an organization I thought was supposed to support the community, and instead they want to try to police it. They're a bunch of scared little fucking boys still trying to start a tattoo mafia and make it legit by hiding behind this law and the whole scratcher thing."Personally, I can see both sides of the argument here. I'm in favor of regulation if it is drafted based on recommendations from the tattoo industry, which this was. But I feel that enforcement should be done systematically by health officials and not a tattoo witch hunt. [The fees and fines will pay for it.]
Many great artists started on kitchen tables, but today, with the easy accessibility of information, kits, supplies and clients looking for a deal, the risks are greater. Anyone looking to make extra money on the side can find a way to do it, not just the artist who truly wants to tattoo but can't find an apprenticeship.
So what do you think? Are you for stricter rules or self-regulation, and who should police those who don't follow the rules?
Call it my obsession, but I've been following the Mike Tyson tattoo copyright (almost as intensely as Beyonce's career) because of its potential impact on the rights of tattooists to defend their art from others who wish to profit from it.
For background, see my first post on it (with some general copyright info) here and the update here.
This post looks like my final update on the case because, yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter published the news that a settlement had been reached between Missouri tattooist, S. Victor Whitmill, and Warner Bros. Whitmill sued Warner Bros. for copyright infringement over its use of his facial tattoo design for Mike Tyson, which was prominent in The Hangover II film. The article stated:
The settlement was no surprise. As I predicted in my posts, these type of cases do tend to settle, and it was pretty clear that Warner Bros. would throw Whitman some money after the judge hearing the case had said that Whitmill had a "strong likelihood of prevailing on the merits for copyright infringement" and that most of the arguments put forward by Warner Bros. were "just silly."
While I'm happy that tattoo artists' rights to their designs were recognized, the tattoo law nerd in me wished that this case had been decided to finally see how the courts would rule on the issue.
Again, I fully believe in a balancing of these rights between client and artist -- or have those rights hammered out in advance between them, especially with celebrities -- but in this case, Tyson himself was not at issue. It was Warner Bros. use of the design in the films, ads, and to-be-released DVD.
Will post a link to this post soon on our Facebook page to get your thoughts.
"Of course tattoos can be copyrighted" -- Judge Catherine D. Perry
Three weeks ago, I wrote about the tattoo copyright controversy over Mike Tyson's facial tattoo and its use in The Hangover Part II film. As I noted in that post, Victor Whitmill, who did Tyson's tattoo in 2003, is suing Warner Bros. for copyright infringement in pirating his tattoo design in the film and using it in its ubiquitous promotion campaign. He filed suit seeking damages and asking the court to issue an injunction to stop the use of the tattoo in the film, thus barring the film's release this Memorial Day weekend.
According to the NY Times Media Decoder blog, on Tuesday, Judge Catherine D. Perry of Federal District Court in St. Louis did not grant the injunction, stating that the harm to the public interest -- businesses beyond Warner Bros that would lose money if the film were not released on schedule -- outweighs the harm to the tattooist. However, the case doesn't end here as the NY Times reports:
Those silly claims include the assertion that tattoos do not have any copyright protection. Warner Bros. pulled out the big guns by having copyright specialist Professor David Nimmer attest that the body is not "a tangible medium of expression," among other arguments including "involuntary servitude." Read Nimmer's declaration in support of Warner Bros. here. It's a departure from Nimmer's original assertion in his treatise on copyright that tattoos are protected under the law. This flip flop did not go unnoticed.
With regard to Warner Bros.'s parody defense, the NY Times quotes Judge Perry: "This use of the tattoo did not comment on the artist's work or have any critical bearing on the original composition. There was no change to this tattoo or any parody of the tattoo itself. Any other facial tattoo would have worked as well to serve the plot device." [Some experts like Professor Eric Goldman disagree with the last sentence.]
What most experts do agree on is that this is not a frivolous case and Whitman could receive a big settlement.
Read my original post for the breakdown of issues surrounding this case.
I'd like like to add one more thing: This isn't a case about a tribal tattoo. It is about protection of works by tattooists. It may not stop companies from ripping off artists (especially apparel companies who are notorious for stealing tattoo designs), but big settlements may make them think twice about continuing to do so.
[Thanks to Benjamin for the Nimmer links.]
Photo by Edgar Hoill
There's been a lot of discussion about tattoo inks lately. Yesterday, we wrote about cremation remains in tattoos and the media's recent fascination with it. A BoingBoing.net post on a Vegan lip tattoo also sparked some controversy on whether tattoos celebrating veganism are vegan themselves. [Of course, there are vegan-friendly inks. Check the list of animal-free inks on Jinxi's blog.]
Yesterday, NPR reported that the US Food & Drug Administration are starting to take a more serious look into what exactly is in tattoo inks and the potential health risks:
In response to these complaints, the FDA has created a Consumer Update site & PDF called "Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?" There's nothing in it that is really big news: yes, people have reported allergic reactions to some inks, and dirty tattoos can lead to infection. What's interesting in this update is that the FDA will be doing further research into (1) the chemical composition of the inks and how they break down (metabolize) in the body; (2) the short-term and long-term safety of pigments used in tattoo inks; and (3) how the body responds to the interaction of light with the inks. Looking forward to their findings.
In the past, the FDA has relied on local authorities to monitor tattoo pigments, but we could be seeing a move toward greater regulatory action on the Fed level -- perhaps a mandate that manufacturers of pigments reveal all of their ingredient list. And I don't think that's such a bad thing.
Many thanks to Gabriel for the link!
Looks like The Hangover 2 continues to suffer some bad tattoo juju. First, the controversy surrounding who would play the small role of tattoo artist in the film. And now, the tattoo design itself.
Victor Whitmill, who did Mike Tyson's infamous facial tattoo in 2003, is suing Warner Bros. for copyright infringement in pirating his tattoo design "without attempting to contact [him], obtain his permission, or credit his creation"; he seeks damages and an injunction to stop the use of the tattoo in the film--which is essentially a big part of the movie. In The Hangover 2, a bachelor party once again leaves our wacky heroes with no clue of what happened the night before, except for a facial tattoo on the groom Stu (Ed Helms). There's also a monkey. See the trailer below.
Looks pretty funny but the legal claims are quite serious. [Download the complaint here.]
Tattoos. Copyright. The media is loving it. But in so many discussions of the case, there's a great deal of misinformation, so I'd like to break it down as best as I can.
First, when I wrote "The Tattoo Copyright Controversy" for BMEzine in 2003, I approached it like a law school hypothetical; that is, I played with how intellectual property rules would apply in various potential disputes involving the ownership of a custom tattoo design. It was hypothetical because, at the time, no actual cases on record could be found specifically addressing this issue. Well, a lot has changed since 2003. Tattoo artists have sued companies for infringement and a number have received large settlements. Even collectors, like model & photographer Amina Munster [NSFW], have registered their tattoos with the US Copyright Office to discourage other collectors from copying.
The basics behind "The Tattoo Copyright Controversy" still hold in addressing what exactly is copyright and its relation to tattoos. A couple of years later, I updated the article for Rankmytattoos.com and continued to post developments on my old Needled.com blog. So click these article links for more of a general discussion.
In this post, I'm going to break down the tattoo copyright issues in relation to Whitmill v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., (E.D. Missouri), what I'll call:
The Mike Tyson Tattoo Copyright Case 101...
Almost a year ago, I wrote about using tattoos as evidence in criminal trials, citing the case of Neo-Nazi John Ditullio who is accused of stabbing a teenager to death and wounding another. While in jail awaiting trial, Ditullio acquired a Nazi swastika among other hateful tattoos but then asked the court in his first trial for permission to cover them up so he won't be prejudiced before the jury. Even more controversial, he asked the court to pay for it because he couldn't.
The judge granted that request, and the media went crazy over tax payers footing the $125/day bill for a cosmetologist to clean-up the accused murderer. Read more in that post for the law surrounding indigent defendants and what is considered a "fair trial" under US law.
Now Ditullio faces his second trial for murder, and again, a cosmetologist is being brought in to cover up the tattoos. Cue more media frenzy. Out of the many articles, I found yesterday's NY Times coverage of the trial most interesting because they don't just discuss the law but look at the extensive process of concealing prominent facial and neck tattoos. Here's some of that discussion:
Chele, the owner of the company performing the work, said the process takes about 45 minutes.Indeed, many cosmetologists contacted to do the work refused. But Chele later adds that she viewed this work as a matter of justice. That's really a main issue: Can this defendant get a fair trial without the cover-up?
What do you think?
[Thanks to Vince Hemingson for the link.]
Wonderful news on the tattoo law front! The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled, in Johnny Anderson v. City of Hermosa Beach, that "tattooing is purely expressive activity fully protected by the First Amendment, and that a total ban on such activity is not a reasonable 'time, place, or manner' restriction."
This is huge and it's implications may go beyond zoning restrictions and even affect cases related to employment discrimination, for example. I just read the full decision and will give y'all the highlights but first some background to the case:
Last May, in our First Amendment & Tattoos post, we first mentioned the Appellate Court agreeing to review the case of Johnny Andersen of Yer Cheat'n Heart Tattoo against Hermosa Beach, CA. Johnny wanted to relocate to Hermosa Beach but was denied because zoning laws prohibited tattooing in the city. He sued in 2006 and lost because the lower court found that tattooing was a service and "'not sufficiently imbued with elements of communication" to be protected as speech.
Wrong! according to today's published decision by the Appellate Court, and they really rip it apart.
So, I'll actually use my law license for some good today and break it all down for you. I'm picking out some key elements that may help other tattoo artists facing similar restrictions on doing business and hopefully we'll see more wins as well.
Photo of Johnny Anderson by Allen J. Schaben for Los Angeles Times
In 2006, Johnny Anderson of Yer Cheat'n Heart Tattoo wanted to move his shop to a better location and decided on Hermosa Beach, CA; however, he was denied because zoning laws prohibited tattooing in the city (not as an outright ban but by not recognizing it as a permissible use). Johnny fought back, suing in federal court in LA claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated and that tattooing is protected artistic expression.
He lost that case because the court found that tattooing was a service and "'not sufficiently imbued with elements of communication" to be protected as speech.
But Johnny didn't give up. He appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently heard the case, and as the Los Angeles Times reports, "some constitutional law scholars predict the outcome could be different in what would be the first--and potentially precedent-setting--federal appellate decision on whether the tattoo artist is engaged in 1st Amendment-protected activity when designing and applying custom tattoos."
This means that if Johnny wins, similar oppressive zoning laws--which are some of the biggest obstacles tattooists must overcome in opening up shop across the US--could be challenged with greater success; even better, local officials may think twice before drafting/amending laws to keep tattoo shops out of their districts.
Other tattooists have challenged tattoo bans on other grounds and have won, but in my opinion, this constitutional question is the most interesting and far reaching in its implications:
Does the First Amendment right to free expression protect tattooing?
Here's what one scholar said to the LA Times:
"If it's art, it's art, and art gets protection," UC Berkeley law professor and 1st Amendment expert Jesse Choper said of the debate over whether tattoos are protected speech. Hermosa Beach might have a chance of prevailing with the 9th Circuit judges, he said, if it imposed regulations limiting the practice to certain parts of the city or required the involvement of medical professionals. But he said he doubts its total ban on tattoo parlors will pass constitutional review.
The state-wide Massachusetts ban on tattooing was deemed unconstitutional by Judge Barbara Rouse in 2000, who ruled on a civil case brought by a tattooist and the ACLU challenging the ban. In her opinion, Judge Rouse said that tattooing is an ancient art form practiced in almost every culture. She added:
Read more on the Massachusetts tattoo battle in this New Yorker article.
That was a state court case, however, and limited in its impact on other bans outside Mass. When a case challenging South Carolina's tattoo ban, White v. South Carolina, was appealed to the US Supreme Court, the highest court in the country refused to hear it (even with Ken Starr arguing it). The tattoo ban was eventually overturned in 2004. [More on that case here and see the S.C. appellate case here.]
FYI: The last state ban to be overturned was Oklahoma in 2006.
Now, with the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals looking into tattoo protections under the constitution, these local bans might also brought down, and just as important, another court will find tattooing as an art form.
Will keep on eye on it and let you know how it goes.
UPDATE: More legal analysis on HuffPo
Yes, yes I know. It's been a while since I've done a review, but really I've been shielding your eyes from the ugliness of the tattoo headlines, a veritable ten-car pileup.
Rubberneckers may slow down for wrecks like reality show juice-heads bawling over tattoo pain, clown-face criminals, tributes to OD'd celebs (ala Corey and DJ AM) alongside tributes to booze, and of course, the incessant coverage of "Nazi tattoo models." Ok, the Tina Fey bit on Michelle McGee was really funny.
But not all news items have necessitated air bags. Here are my less painful picks:
First up, Dallas Observer photographers, Patrick Michels and Kevin Todora, offer an extensive slideshow of photos (like the one above) from the MusInk Festival this past weekend. It's a sweet mix of rockstars, Miss Tattoo contestants, and views from the convention floor.
The Down East Tattoo Show in Maine, a smaller convention this past weekend, had an interesting twist on its tattoo competition: the judges were art scholars from the University of Maine (and not one had a tattoo). Organizers of the show say that the professors are unbiased and decide strictly on the art (and not if their buddy tattooed it), but they also are aware of good technique like strong line work and smooth shading. As one judge said, "A well-designed but badly executed tattoo just doesn't cut it." [Also check the video interview of one collector from the show.]
On the tattoo law front (my fave!):
South Carolina, the last US state that required parental permission to get tattooed for those under 21 years of age, has now lowered the age requirement to 18. Considering you don't need parental consent to go to war at 18, this seems more logical.
And while the military has certain tattoo prohibitions itself, the number of heavily tattooed soldiers continues to grow.
Connecticut marshals fought a ban on visible tattoos and won. The tattoo policy said that "visible tattoos could pose a threat to safety and security" of the marshals. Huh? Happy that the Connecticut judiciary had the same reaction and nixed it.
And Canadian tattooists with poor spelling can relax now: a small claims court in Nova Scotia ruled that a woman who sued a studio for a misspelled tattoo was the "author of her own misfortune" as she had a chance to view the stencil before it was tattooed on her. She also didn't give the artist time to correct the work before suing. The misspelled word? "Beautiful" in the phrase "You're so beautiful." I know, it's a toughie.
Even dumber: Chicago law makers spending time and money crafting a ban on eyeball tattooing. I'll say this again: just because a couple of inmates and bod mod artists do it, does not mean tattooing your eyeball has become a trend. *primal scream*
Quick & Dirty Links:
Tattoos on beautiful Olympic bodies were the biggest buzz this past week. The hottest one: USA speed skater J.R. Selski's chest piece (above) -- screen-capped around the world -- revealed as he took his shirt off after being disqualified in the men's 1000-meter short track speed skating on Sunday (he won the Bronze in the men's 1500-meter last week). Speculation over the meaning of the tattoo sped over Olympic blogs. Celski is of Filipino and Polish heritage and so talk of the tattoo being a blend of those countries' flags seems to hit the mark. [Thanks to Regin Schwaen for the link!]
Then there is Britain's ice dancing minx, Sinead Kerr, whose
The mini-Olympic rings tattoo on hockey player Julie Chu's foot stars in this NBC video -- a sweet story on how her whole family got matching tattoos in honor of her making the Olympic team. More on that tattoo here.
Chu's not the only tattooed hockey player on the US team. The identical Lamoureux sisters sport a family crest -- inked at their kitchen table by a local tattooer -- but on different body parts, which helps tell them apart.
And Bronze-medal winning snowboarder Scotty Lago shows off his tattoos (including faded lip work) and talks about more to come in this video.
Whether kitchen scratched, tramp-stamped or lip inked, the tattoos still mark bodies of those who can kick my butt as I type this sitting on my own big Greek one, so respect.
Ok, let's hit headlines in my own ring: the tattoo law links...
There's more news on South Carolina lowering the tattoo age requirement from 21 to 18 years of age. As I noted in a previous news review, much of the push to change the law comes from the inequity of allowing 18-year-olds to go to war but prohibiting them from marking their experience on skin when they return. That and of course money leaving the state as those under 21 go to Georgia or North Carolina to get tattooed. The Governor will decide whether the new bill changing tattoo requirements will be put into law. Keep in mind that the art was completely banned in the state until 2004, but it wasn't until March 2006 when regulations were in force for legal tattooing. [Oklahoma was the last state to lift their tattoo ban in May 2006.]
New York City's tattoo ban was lifted in 1997. Of course, many -- myself included -- were getting work pre-legalization, but once the signs were allowed to flash "Tattoo" neon in shop windows, the amount of tattooed bodies in the city made it like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, a garden of epidermal delights. Also delighting in the tattoo tidal wave has been law enforcement, melding old school skin art with technology to identify suspects -- as this popular NY Times article pointed out last week. We've talked about databases of criminal tattoos before but the article shows just how detailed -- and some argue invasive -- the Real Time Crime Center can be.
As this Orlando Sentinel article points out, the popularity of tattoos dilutes criminal tattoo identification because so many are getting inked with designs that once solely marked gang members.
And simply, so many are getting tattooed with flash designs. Will everyone with "Mom" on their bicep be a suspect because one idiot with that tattoo committed a crime? I'll be keeping a watch on the legality of these tattoo databases and whether they begin to truly impinge on civil liberties.
In pop culture and on its fringes, here are the tattoo headlines ...
Now there is someone in this world with an Ashton Kutcher tattoo. [right]
No.1 tattoo rule: Spell Check.
Nicole Richie regrets her dumbass tattoos.
With Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland release next month, we'll be seeing more of these Lewis Carroll tattoo stories.
Still diggin USA Today's Tattoo Tuesday blog but wish they'd credit all the tattooists whose work is featured.
Executive Chef of Sysco Food Services, Randy King, says Uncover those tattoos to restaurant workers.
And ending on a tear-jerking story...
Tattoo tributes to Renee Benson, a 29-year-old Orange County native who died of several forms of cancer, marked over 50 of her friends and family last week during a fundraiser at HB Tattoo in her honor. [More than $2,500 was raised for Benson's family to help cover medical costs.] Warning: the photos will hit you.
This edition of tattoo news review breaks the headlines down into The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Let's start off with the latter:
The most popular story emailed by many of you is one of those that makes us feel just a bit better about ourselves as we point and laugh at others. Behold:
The only thing worse than a misspelled bad tattoo is losing a bet and having Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger tattooed on your ass. See the butt-baring video of that here. [Click here for more Nickelback luv.]
Another lost bet: Stephen Baldwin thinking his Miley Cyrus tattoo will get him on Hannah Montana show. [Will refrain from snark on his loss in the Baldwin gene pool.]
Brilliant offense -- or offence -- with another "Sir, your tattoos are terrible" post on b-ball players' bad tattoos. See last week's ire. I'm becoming addicted to this series. Here's a taste:
Then there are the worst musician tattoos.
[Look, I'm really a people person. A lover of humanity. I only link the cattiness, not meow it myself. Mostly.]
A while back I posted about the arrest of a dirtbag who gave his 7-year-old son a gang tattoo. Now he's facing even tougher punishment for the crime: possible life in prison.
A 28-year-old man was arrested for tattooing brass knuckles on his 16-year-old girlfriend. [Yes, 16.] Even worse, the guy would stand outside a local high school and offer to tattoo kids for $40 AND reuse the needles on them. Lock. Him. Up.
A Boston child goes to get a temp tattoo from a vending machine and instead gets a hateful political message. Will this scar her against body art for life?
Those wishing to leave gang life -- and their tattoos -- can get free laser removal by Las Vegas doctor, Dr. Julio Garcia. There are similar offers around the country like Dr. Dave's Fresh Start program.
Chris Zedano's Staple Street photo series is a must-see and includes our own Sean Risley (shown right, cropped) as well as other tattooed and beautiful freak portraits.
This Charlie Brown tattoo is no blockhead.
More cool geek tattoos at the Science Tattoo Emporium.
Amy Winehouse is sobering up and covering her "Blake" tattoo, once a moving tribute to her junkie ex.
[Sorry, Green One. I had to.]
And in a category all by itself ... Lady Gaga tribute tattoos.
Yesterday, Father Panik gave us his own (special brand of) review of the Star of Texas tattoo convention in Austin, but he wasn't the only one offering reportage of the event. Austin 360 gave a play-by-play (and a small lame sideshow), while TV stations KRQE and Fox Austin posted short videos online of the show. I dig these photos and quick videos because they offer a look at the scene, which helps decide what will be on my convention schedule next year.
The Bangkok International Tattoo Convention also got some nice coverage. Reuters took beautiful photos from the show including the one above, and CNN has a few nice shots as well. Sky News joined in with a video from the floor.
With thousands attending these conventions worldwide -- and the media chasing after us -- you'd think that the debate whether "tattoos have gone mainstream" was thoroughly squashed, but a new study says otherwise.
Texas Tech University's "Body Art Team" [real name] has found "The more body art you have, the more likely you are to be involved in deviance," according to the Chicago Tribune. The swat Body Art Team surveyed 1,753 students at four colleges and reported that the heavily tattooed and pierced drank more, did drugs more, had sex more and cheated in class more. [They add, "For low-level body art, these kids are not any different from anybody else."]
NBC news in Dallas also reported on the study and gave this reasoning behind the results:
To see what tattooed people think about the study, NBC went to a local studio and talked to artists and clients -- who, as expected, laughed at it. Watch their video report below:
The study is somewhat silly in its over-generalization and limited study group: How many of us drank, smoked and fucked more in college? A lot.
But yes, we've seen more young people heavily tattooed and modified in more extreme ways than just a decade ago. I wonder, though, if it's because of a need to rebel or simply because there is greater access to tattoos and mod procedures. Feel free to weigh in in the comments section.
If anyone is pissed off about the popularity of tattoos, it's Helen Mirren, who got her hand tattoo while drunk and lookin' to be baaaad.
Tattoos are not popular enough for Armani, however. They airbrushed those of Megan Fox in their latest undie ad.
Even less scientific than the deviant study: "How tattoos can reveal your lover's personality."
The Marine Corps are also concerned about heavily tattooed (deviant?) soldiers saying that "tattoos of an
excessive nature do not represent our traditional values." Values like Shock & Awe? A new Marine Corps reg tightens and clarifies tattoo policies for active-duty troops; most notably, it "prohibits enlisted Marines with sleeve tattoos from becoming
commissioned officers, even if the tattoos, which were banned in 2007,
had been grandfathered in according to protocol." I know this is wacky but I have no problem with our military lookin'
Real deviants will soon be less likely to get tattooed with new technology that matches tattoos to criminal records. The newest development called "Tattoo ID" helps law enforcement match up tattoos to suspects and victims. For example, the Boston Herald says that "a security camera image of a suspect's tattoo could be checked against an image databank to come up with a short list of suspects." Problem here is that we assume most criminals have artistic acumen for fine art custom tattoos. What about those who picked off some flash from a tattoo shop wall along with tons of other clients? Internet-industry journal IEEE Spectrum asks, "Is a tattoo ... enough of a unique identifier to put someone under suspicion?" A valid question to explore before innocent tattooed people are accused.
In more on the tattoo law front ...
A new tattoo bill in Florida will prohinit those 16 and under from getting tattooed even with parental permission. [Teenagers 16 or 17 years old would still need a parent to sign for them.] The bill also requires every tattoo artist in Panama City to register with the Florida Department of Health.
In South Carolina, however, tattoo rules are being eased. The state's tough tattoo law requires parental consent for tattoos on those aged under 20 years of age, but that restriction will be lifted if a state House bill passes and the Governor signs off on it. An impetus for the change is soldiers under 20 returning to South Carolina after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who want to get tattooed but can't -- they're allowed to be shot at but not tattooed.
On the pop culture tip ...
Check this black light Lost tattoo. The story behind it is pretty cool:
"In the late summer of '08, I took my Lost love to the next level by getting a Dharma tattoo inked onto my ankle. Since my good pal had recently started working at small parlor nearby, we decided to collaborate. I had been wanting to experiment with iridescent ink. My pal had never worked with the stuff, so we struck a deal: I would be his guinea pig if he would spring for the ink.
If you've never heard of it, iridescent ink is a dye that glows under a black light. The tough thing about tattooing with it is that you have to illuminate the surface of the skin just to see what you're doing.
Dharma logo seemed perfect for this technique, with a thick,
recognizable shape....We decided to use the Looking Glass Station's
logo -- a white rabbit inside of the Dharma shape -- a reference to Alice in Wonderland, and the (site) of my favorite Lost episode, the Season 3 finale."
In clear tattoo view, a Baton Rouge man tempts fate with a "Saints Superbowl Champion" tattoo even before this past Sunday's game. Thankfully, they at least made it to the Super Bowl.
Best Headline (and Jersey Shore reference): "This Is Why Cadillac Has an Image Problem.
Worst press release ever. "Tattoo body art is not only a kind of body art but a great way of advertising your business and products as tattoo advertising has many merits compared to other ways of advertising."
And More Quick & Dirty Links ...