Who Really Owns Your Tattoo?

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Got ink? You'll probably be surprised to find out that your body art may be owned by someone else.

If you’re among the 3 in 10 Americans who have a tattoo, chances are good that your permanent body art is actually owned by the person who created it, not you.

Shontavia Johnson, a professor of intellectual property law at Drake University, writes in The Conversation that tattoo artists and companies can have intellectual property rights — including copyright and trademark rights — for tattoos that are inked on someone else.

She writes that for any creation that is “copyrightable,” the default legal standard is that the creator owns it.

“To receive copyright protection, a creation must meet three requirements: It must be a work of authorship, it must be original and it must be fixed,” writes Johnson.

Tattoo ownership has been thrown into the spotlight in recent years. In 2011, the tattoo artist who created Mike Tyson’s famous Maori-inspired facial tattoo sued Warner Bros. for recreating Tyson’s tattoo on an actor’s face in the hit film “The Hangover: Part II,” says Mother Nature Network. The parties settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Earlier this month, the maker of the popular NBA 2K video game was sued by a tattoo company for using digitally reproduced images of tattoos that are inked on LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other NBA stars in its video game.

A judge dismissed the copyright infringement lawsuit, Reuters reports, noting that the designs were registered with the U.S. Copyright Office after the alleged infringements occurred.

So what does this mean for your ink? It means you could get sued, depending on how you choose to display or photograph your tattoo. It’s unlikely that it will happen, but it is legal. Johnson says:

Based on current law, the standards set by these cases can affect countless daily activities for people with tattoos, including how they are depicted, photographed or recorded. Despite common sense to the contrary, copyright law and trademark law technically allow for such limitations on a person’s freedom.

What do you think of tattoos? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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