Getting your Tattoo Artist to Sign on the Dotted Line



As you brace yourself to get inked with a new tattoo, it’s unlikely that you will be seeking to agree terms with your tattoo artist about copyright in the design. But that’s exactly what you need to do, if you want to make commercial use of the tattoo. 

This issue has recently been raised in the context of video games’ publishers seeking to replicate the tattoos of major sports stars in their games. Take-Two, the makers of the popular NBA 2K video game series, have landed in hot water recently with a law suit over their use of copyrighted tattoo designs in the new NBA2K16 game. Solid Oak Sketches, the tattoo artists responsible for some of the ink appearing on NBA all-stars Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and other prominent players, are suing Take-Two for unauthorised use of the copyrighted designs which appear in the game. It appears that Take-Two did not obtain licences from Solid Oak Sketches to use the designs in NBA2K16, which could prove to be a rather pricey mistake. EA Games’ had a similar experience with a copyright infringement claim over their Madden NFL 15 game (although it seems the case was later dropped).

So what lessons can we take away from this? Paying for something, whether a tattoo, a new logo or website, doesn’t always mean you own the copyright in the work – although Kobe’s butterfly tattoos are now permanently inked on his skin, the ownership of the design of those tattoos will remain with the artist unless copyright terms are agreed and documented.

For more information on protecting your IP, we have set out some basics in our Startup Pack here or you can drop us a line here.

Until next time,