Who owns the right to tattoos ?

Many celebraties and sportsmen love to get tattoos on their body parts but the million dollar question that arises is that are there any protection to the design and artistic work of the tattoo artist.Is their work being protected from infringement  or there hard work is at a peril.

This question is prompted by an ongoing copyright infringement lawsuit in New York, one of only a few suits to raise the legally murky issue of whether companies like movie and video game studios must pay to license the the work of tattoo artists the way they would pay for using a pop song, even if that tattoo is permanently inked on a person’s body.


Solid Oak Sketches LLC, a company that owns the rights to tattoos on various NBA players, sued 2K Games Inc. and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc..makers of the popular basketball simulation video game series “NBA 2K,” in February 2016.

Solid Oak, had previously purchased the exclusive rights to license, from the original tattoo artists, several tattoos found on basketball players James, Eric Bledsoe, and Kenyon Martin.

In the suit, Solid Oak charges that Take-Two committed copyright infringement when it created digital versions of the players that included those tattoos without permission.


Solid Oak alleged that defendants depicted eight tattoo designs on different NBA players in the video game “NBA 2K16” without authorization. In the alternative to actual damages, Solid Oak sought statutory damages and attorneys’ fees. The defendants moved to dismiss Solid Oak’s claim for statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.

The district court granted the motion and held that Solid Oak was precluded from recovering statutory damages and attorneys’ fees because the allegedly infringed tattoo designs were not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office until 2015, two years after the first allegedly infringing game, “NBA 2K14,” was released. Pursuant to Section 412 of the U.S. Copyright Act, in order to obtain statutory damages and attorneys’ fees, a plaintiff must have registered its copyright prior to the alleged infringement. The court rejected Solid Oak’s argument that it was nonetheless entitled to statutory damages and attorneys’ fees because the “2K16” version of the game was released after the copyright registration, holding that statutory damages and attorneys’ fees are precluded where “the first act of infringement in a series of ongoing infringements occurred prior to the work’s copyright registration.”


The idea that tattoos are equivalent to songs or paintings might seem strange, but legally it’s relatively clear-cut. Copyright protection extends to any original work “fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” a definition that most intellectual property experts agree includes tattoos. But there is very little case law addressing the ability to copyright tattoos, since most infringement suits end in settlement.

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