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Kat Von D Sued Over Tattoo In First-Of-Its-Kind Lawsuit

Tom Wood

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Kat Von D Sued Over Tattoo In First-Of-Its-Kind Lawsuit

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

A photographer is suing celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D for copyright infringement in a landmark case that is believed to be the first of its kind.

In short, the photographer alleges that in using a photograph as reference for a tattoo, Kat Von D has infringed copyright and violated his intellectual property rights.

The case centres around a tattoo that Von D, who is actually called Katherine Von Drachenberg, inked in 2017.

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It shows American jazz legend Miles Davis with his fingers on his lips, an image that was captured originally on camera by Jeffrey Sedlik.

While Von D was not paid for her work on the tattoo, she did later share it on her social media.

Kat Von D shared her tattoo on Instagram. Credit: Court filing
Kat Von D shared her tattoo on Instagram. Credit: Court filing

In 2021, Sedlik filed a suit against the celebrity tattooist, claiming that her work is substantially similar to his photograph.

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Speaking to Bloomberg, Californian copyright attorney Aaron Moss explained: "Essentially he's saying that the tattoo is substantially similar to his photograph of Miles Davis and therefore Kat Von D has committed copyright infringement.”

Despite that, Von D insists that her version of the picture is transformative of the original, and therefore there is no copyright infringement.

However, a federal judge in California has ruled that the case can be brought to trial.

In a filing, lawyers for Von D wrote: “Holding tattoo artists civilly liable for copyright infringement will necessarily expose the clients of these artists to the same civil liability anytime they choose to get tattoos based on copyrighted source material, display their tattooed bodies in public, or share social media posts of their tattoos.

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“That is not the law and cannot be the law.”

If a judge finds in favour of Sedlik, it could mean a significant change to the tattooing profession, limiting what artists can and can’t ink onto people’s skin.

The ramifications for the industry are huge, and there’s a lot at stake.

The original photograph of Miles Davis. Credit: Court filing
The original photograph of Miles Davis. Credit: Court filing
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Kristelia Garcia, a teacher of copyright, patent, and intellectual property law at the University of Colorado said: "It's Miles Davis with his finger to his mouth and admittedly, even Kat Von D used the photograph as a reference photograph, but ultimately put her own spin on it and the question for the jury would be, did she do enough to change it?"

Another copyright lawyer – not affiliated with the case – Amelia Brankov told Artnet News: "A finding of infringement would effectively make public display of the tattooed person’s arm an act of infringement.

"This could give pause to tattoo artists who are asked to ink third-party imagery on their clients."

Von D came to fame after starring in the reality shows Miami Ink and LA Ink. Her Instagram account has more than 900,000 followers.

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Topics: Celebrity, US News, Weird, Art

Tom Wood
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