If you’re reading this, there’s probably an artwork somewhere that you would like to get tattooed on your body. But, you realized there might be a little problem there as well. Can you come to a tattoo shop with a request for a tattooist to do the exact same thing on you, with small or no changes at all? Where does the issue of copyright law step in, and is such a request simply disrespectful and rude?
Well, you wouldn’t be the first or the last to wonder about the issue of copying tattoos. This topic is a big deal in the tattoo community. And, in the following paragraphs, we’ll let you know all about this. This way, you can avoid copyright law issues and violations of the same law. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
Tattoos: Inspiration and Copyright Violation
Inspiration – Explained
It is best to start this kind of topic by explaining what being inspired by another artwork or tattoo means.
We all draw our inspiration for life from somewhere or someone else, usually other people’s work. But, in the meantime, we also want to move away from the inspiration and create our own thing that is unique for us only and no one else.
Inspiration in such a case is the thing that has influenced you to do something similar, but you also managed to introduce some unique parts and changes which make the newly created artwork unique and yours. But, even in the case of inspiration, it is important to be vocal about the person or the artwork that can inspire or influence you.
Without any changes or adjustments introduced while creating artwork under the influence of another piece of art, then you’re simply in the presence of plagiarism.
This applies to any type or form of creative work; whether we’re talking about a song, a text for a book, a painting, or an artwork design for a tattoo. Being inspired and straight-up copying another person’s work isn’t distinguished by a fine line as some people believe. These two concepts are completely different and generally emphasized by one’s need to hide the source of inspiration.
Copying (Copyright Violation) – Explained
Now, when we know what being inspired means, let’s take a close look at copying. Well, it is pretty simple. If you’ve seen someone else’s work, and you copy it or use it directly, trying to pass it on as your own work, then we’re talking about copying and copyright violation.
Now, let’s not confuse copying of other work for the sake of learning and developing as an artist yourself. But, the source of the original work always needs to be vocalized and credited. And, you can not use that work as your own or profit from it, for example.
The copyright violation issue is easy to understand. If you use another person’s work and pass it on as your own, while also profiting from it for example, and without crediting the source, you’re violating the copyright law.
When it comes to tattoos, there are two types of copying;
- Copying of an already existing piece of art that is not tattoo-related
- Copying of an already existing tattoo design which is in the ownership of another tattoo artist
So, if you decide to get a tattoo of let’s say a Claude Monet’s painting, and you ask your tattoo artists to do the same design, we’re talking about copying. However, this is not a copyright violation if your tattoo is not used as promotional material, for example. And, of course, this tattoo is an intellectual property of the artist himself, not your tattooist. But, since the original artist died a long time ago and cannot provide a permission for the use of his work, the issue of copying is easily handled.
On the other hand, if you show up at a tattoo shop with the intention to get the same tattoo as someone else, then you’re entering the red zone of copying. Copying in such a case would have no creative input, the source artist would have not been contacted for approval and the design or the layout of the tattoo is exactly the same.
Sure enough, the copyright violation would get even more serious if the copied tattoo design is used in a commercial sense, where the grounds for a lawsuit would be definitely in the favor of the original artist.
So, Is It Rude to Ask a Tattoo Artist to Copy a Tattoo?
Of course, it is! Such a request is considered rude and disrespectful on so many levels.
First of all, you’re directly or indirectly trying to get your tattoo artist in some serious legal problems. If it turns out that your wish tattoo design is a copy, and the original tattoo artist has not approved of it being reused, then your tattoo artist could face a copyright lawsuit, which they would 100% lose.
Furthermore, you’re asking a tattoo artist to devalue the work of another tattoo artist or their colleague, which is that much rude as well.
But, What Can You Do To Avoid Copying?
Well, as we mentioned before, drawing inspiration from other people’s work is not forbidden nor legally an issue, so long there is a creative output and creative addition from your side.
So, if you’ve found an amazing tattoo design, here’s what you can do;
- Contact the artist; find their email address or contact them using social media.
- Ask the original artist for their permission; see if you can use certain aspects of their work for your own idea.
- Always make sure you’ve contacted the right person; if not, you could get into some legal troubles.
- Make sure the tattoo artist is the original creator of the design; sometimes tattoo artists don’t realize they’ve copied another artist’s design or work.
- Make sure to share your plans and ideas with the tattoo artist; let them know what you’ll do and see if they are fine with your creative input.
- Always be ready for a negative response from the original artist; people take huge pride in their work, and we have to respect their decision if they don’t want their work appearing anywhere else.
Another thing you can do is ask the original tattoo artist to come up with a similar tattoo design that you’ve selected for inspiration. You can even recommend you both do a collaboration regarding the new design, so the ownership of the design will belong to both of you. This could be a clever way to get the tattoo of your dreams without violating someone’s legal right to their own work. Also, this way you’ll simply avoid being disrespectful to the tattoo artist that was supposed to ‘be inspired by’ or to ‘copy’ a certain tattoo design.
How Can You Prevent Tattoo Copying?
Well, if you’re intentionally using another artist’s design and not disclosing its origin and source, then you’re not really preventing design theft.
However, if you want to do things the right way, there are some things you can do to prevent copyright issues and tattoo theft.
As a client, you should;
- Always try to get original tattoo designs from your artist.
- If you’ve found a design you like, disclose to your tattooist that the design belongs to another tattoo artist.
- Always contact the original tattoo artist and ask for permission to use the original design or alter it in some way.
- Try buying already existing designs and illustrations to avoid copyright violation.
As a tattoo artist you should;
- Always educate yourself on other tattoo artists and their work, as well as the world of tattoos and copyright law.
- Always watermark your original designs, especially if you’re posting them online.
- Pay attention to the work you post online; this way you can post several designs which speak of your talent and creativity, but not disclose too much of your work and prevent theft.
- If someone contacts you about using your work, see how they’ll alter the design and stay open-minded if the person is only drawing inspiration.
The Bottom Line
Copying other people’s tattoo designs, and asking a tattoo artist to use them is a pretty big deal and incredibly disrespectful to the whole tattoo community. Sure, it is hard to know where every single tattoo design comes from, mostly because people tend to not disclose the source of the design. But, it is up to the tattoo artists out there to always check the designs their clients bring and see whether they’re the intellectual property of another fellow tattooist.
Sure enough, you as a client also need to pay attention to the designs you want to use and do your research about their origin. It is essential to disclose that a particular design belongs originally to another artist, or disclose that you don’t know the source or the artist behind the design. Either way, do whatever you can to avoid asking your tattoo artist to copy a tattoo.
Also Read: How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make?