Is Tattoo Art Copyrighted?

Man Wearing Silver Skull Ring

It is difficult to identify a more personalized statement or method of collaborative acceptance than utilizing our bodies as canvases, permanently marking one’s skin. Their customer’s tattooed compositions are more widely and readily visible than functions done possibly in nearly any other medium. Yet within the tattooing field sufficiently detailed or serious evaluation of activity as well as associated technological and socioeconomic impacts are seldom accorded.

As is most common with online tattoo-related writings, content often primarily serves as an advertisement vehicle for images hyping inking for a clinic and is then peppered by quotations from a handful of easily contactable [often just mainstream] artists. Implications of copyrighting tattoo designs and related body art forms, especially completed tattoo works, are worth investigating in greater detail:

“tattoo artists calling right to have copyright in their work | There is an unwritten rule in New Zealand – decent tattoo artists do not copy designs. Right now the Copyright Act 1994 is under review, and artists behind the ink say stricter legislation could protect original tattoo designs. House of Natives founder Gordon Toi would champion tattoo protection. “I would like to find some kind of governance over Maori tattooing and Polynesian tattooing… there is so much exploitation.” Original designs were often replicated, often overseas without even talking to the New Zealand artist, he said.

“Skin is probably the toughest thing to copyright, because everybody is copying it.” Pacific Tattoo proprietor Tim Hunt wanted artists to respect the meaning of Maori and Pacific cultural patterns and symbols. “Any artist could say, I can do you a design that has korus and looks Maori”, Hunt said.

“But if you want something authentic, you will need to go somewhere else.” Overseas, tattoo artists are suing when their designs appear on in the media, such as television. If copyright law protected cultural images, Hunt would respect the change. “I want more tattoo artists to stand up and say:’I do not know enough about it, I don’t know the history behind it, and I don’t understand the context behind it’.” Overseas, tattoo artists replicate images without a second thought.

New Zealand was different, ” he explained. “It’s kind of an unspoken code in New Zealand that you simply don’t do that.” Hunt thought the customer owned the tattoo, not the artist. Union Tattoo proprietor Craigy Lee agreed there was an unwritten code of conduct to never replicate a custom tattoo. Decent artists wouldn’t dare to create money from somebody else’s design, he said. University of Auckland associate professor Alex Sims said technically what is now happening in New Zealand is likely copyright infringement – under the banner of artwork. However Longwood Wildlife Removal cautioned against strict enforcement of copyright laws on tattoos, which could include removal of tattoos, preventing the tattoos look in films and advertisements, or requiring the removal of tattoos out of social media. “It would give the copyright owner the power to control images of a individual, which could be extremely concerning and just wrong.”

Tattoo vs artwork

For use in the tattooing world, a distinction between copyrighting made or employed tattoo artwork has to be made. We address professional practitioners tattooing as their renewable, primary way of income.

Tattooists may have multiple images and other as yet non-applied media content such as designs, compositions, sketches or custom artworks. Like representations of various traditional art forms, these are relatively easy to recorded as well as upload allowing clear electronic ascription of copyright ownership.

Using a three-dimensional canvas presents complexities to automated digital identification. In numerous image copyright monitoring software, positioning alone could throw off investigation methods. While Instagram and alternate photo uploading databases provide some kind of time-stamped verification but, because of comparatively openly editable structures subsequent possession and source attribution can become diluted. Whether tattooist’s produced artwork is documented on skin or another type of canvas is the first practical differentiation.

Artist vs tech

In order for copyrighting considerations to be adequately reviewed, grouping serves as a tattoo business specific starting categorizations.

Forgoing reflections on the tattoo artist’s aesthetics and styles might have been derived or inspired, the tattoo artist’s works are independently recognizable as”being theirs”. In a senses, the tattoo artist has a stylistic monopoly.

Proportionately with other creative mediums, the tattoo artist has a particular vision, knowledge and or expertise which might not be readily substituted for or by anybody else. The tattoo artist can therefore be classified as practicing the tattooing craft so as to convey a unique style and or furthering the continuation of a single aesthetic or technique.

Tattoo technicians may have different portfolios of completed, tattooed, works. While the tattoos in such portfolios can’t be exactly replicated, such special quality attributes are due primarily to placement on a bespoke canvas, i.e. on one completely individual person. The cohesive outcome is bespoke rather than the isolation of a makeup. Similarly such tattooed work is formed within specific, often non-reproducible proportions. The resulting tattoo may indeed be faithfully replicated by any number of other tattoo technicians, albeit on a different exclusive canvas.

And as proportionate to qualified technicians in any area, a tattoo technician may be substituted with no underlying loss or degradation to outcomes. A tech is your tattooist physically and technically capable of employing categories of tattoos yet may do so indiscriminately in regards to a single style, size, technique, aesthetic and or layout. Capacity rather than artistic character or vision here is the limiting factor.

Tradition vs technique

Tattoo artists may be thought of [as just two examples from millions] Ondrash conveying a distinctive aesthetic to Horioshi III in Japan continuing the culturally rich art of tebori. Both being solely from the tattoo artist’s jurisdiction, delimitation of copyrighting unique compositions as opposed to reproductions of classic iconography forms another noteworthy separation.

Like any configuration in the more classically mainstream mediums like painting, such a dichotomy isn’t to state that tattoo artwork itself necessarily neither falls upon a single side. As with artistic pursuits, sources of inspiration in addition to subjectively justifiable conclusions the same compositions tagged as’homage’ by some or’theft’ to others remains to be qualified in any manner at all. As often said, good artists copy – good artists steal.

Copyrights vs claims

Primarily this acts as verified recognition, by a third party, of bespoke or imputed authorship. Not least of which often lending substance to sales pricing.

Secondly the purpose of holding a copyright ownership registration might be preparation for cataloguing proceedings when initiating formalized legal protections. These proceeding nonetheless require the violator(s) be identified, engaged with, refuse to honor the registration and then successfully convicted in a manner constrained by their geographically applicable court(s) of legislation. Quantification of receivable remuneration is dependent upon violator’s accurate identification, possessed content’s recorded usage, set culpability through response and achievable legal ramifications as determined in part by physical location. All form notable, complicating things.

Recognition vs protection

It’s been found as commonplace for a tattooist to use the designs or even completed tattooed portfolio pieces of another. While a large portion of accredited tattoo artwork is searchable online, sheer volumes accessible via disparate sources fractures attempts for single point [i.e. one tattooist’s] crediting. The illegal or unauthorized use of tattooed works conceivably only being in offline or printed portfolios, as with those shown to studio clientele. Tattoos often function as individually enacted and privately held art form.

Online display and therefore essentially public’registration’ of tattooed functions may therefore purposefully not exist. Its wearer might have requested this.

These factors translate into an ability for tattoo technicians, dealing directly with individual clients, to potentially be quite liberal in statements of finished works and, by extension, maintained tattooing experience or experience.

In a practical manner, the motivations or impetus for copyright ownership registration of tattoo functions apply more broadly to the tattoo artist and perhaps only as form of registration of completed portfolios to the tech. While achievable remuneration or punitive actions against copyright ownership violators is far from predictable, a focus on digitally time-stamping both tattoo artwork and portfolios through say blockchain verification is the first step towards assurances of authenticity. However utilized the creator now has immutable, single-source substantiation of ownership.

As with the technology’s decentralized capacity, skill of trust reallocation onto individual sources as opposed to’hubs’ equates to possibly ushering in a new standard of work verification. This is hugely significant for the client in the process selection. For tattoo artists that the effects and benefits of copyright ownership through blockchain are also significant.


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