02 October 2007

tattoo copyright

“First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

There d
oes not appear to be any online discussion on tattoos and copyright law in relation to Australia and Australian copyright law. The discussion below relates to the USA legislature and is not relevant outside the USA.


Tattooing is one of the oldest forms of body art. The impetus to decorate and adorn is essentially a human characteristic and is something that people have always done. For many people the designs and symbols of adornment can hold great meaning. Similar designs can be found across cultures but their meaning can be significantly different. Within cultures the meaning of certain designs can change across time.

Click on an image below to find out more about tattooing.

Earliest forms of Tattooing Ta Moko, Maori tattooing Ta Tau, Samoan tattooing

"My slides from my presentation last week exploring this question, up on the Gikii 2 website, got boing boinged. So here is a post about some of the issues that come up, including those that came up in the BoingBoing forum."



discussion wrt US copyright law


Pat Fish also raised the originality issue for the tattoo community:

“Tattooing as an artistic culture is highly derivative and once an image is out in the community it is fair game for reproduction. We take art from all cultures and all styles and transform them into skin art. It is impossible to make two absolutely identical tattoos, and even if the client asks for a copy they will get their artist’s version of it, based on subtle changes to fit their body and the artist’s competence.”

That’s an important point. Human beings are not two dimensional canvases.


It’s about copyright. Those who read my Needled blog regularly are now letting out a universal groan and group eye rolling. It’s because I talk about it a lot. It’s my thang, as we say in the legal world.

For those not in the know, I first brought up the issue of copyright and tattoos in 2003 in an article for BMEzine. It made people really uncomfortable and made me really unpopular.



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