While some still consider tattoos to be barbaric or equivalent to ‘scarring one’s body for life’, in the past few decades, people’s fascination with body art has sky rocketed.
In an interesting case in the U.S. District Court at Roanoke, a copyright infringement suit was filed by a tattoo artist named Roger Ladouceur against a local restaurant chain, Macado’s Inc. In the lawsuit it is alleged that the restaurant chain, in promoting its Halloween events over the past two years, has been using a drawing which Ladouceur claimed to have designed and copyrighted in 2013 — the face of Frankenstein’s monster wearing a monocle. He claims that it was originally created for a client in October 2013, and since then, he has utilized “the tattoo as a marketing device to advertise his tattoo business. In 2014, without license, permission or other authority from Ladouceur, Macado’s knowingly, wilfully and intentionally usurped the tattoo for their own commercial purposes, making an exact or substantially similar copy.”
This is not the first time a tattoo has been subject to copyright dispute. Warner Bros. has been at the receiving of a copyright dispute when they released the sequel of movie The Hangover. Not only one of the actors was sporting a copy of Mike Tyson’s facial tattoo in the film, but the image was used for the advertising campaign. The tattoo artist of Tyson, Victor Whitmill, accused the movie firm for copyright infringement of his design. The injunction was not granted but the presiding judge stated that “Whitmill had a strong likelihood of prevailing on the merits for copyright infringement” and that most of the arguments put forward by Warner Bros were “just silly.” However, the case ended up being settled out of court soon after the movie’s release.
In the present case, the lawsuit seeks “an award of all those profits of Defendants attributable to their use of the tattoo, which shall include but not be limited to all profits across all of their restaurant businesses from the sale of food, drink and merchandise during and through the entire Halloween 2014 season … into 2015 to present.”
Looked at the perspective from copyrights, a tattoo would come under the purview of “artistic work”. Moreover, it is not contingent that an artistic work should reach an aesthetic standard in order to get protection under copyrights.
“Roanoke tattoo artist files copyright infringement suit against Macado’s”, available at http://www.roanoke.com/news/local/roanoke/roanoke-tattoo-artist-files-copyright-infringement-suit-against-macado-s/article_fabf3556-42f6-5b65-95ff-0a5dbb7ad111.html
 “Tattoo artists are asserting their copyright claims”, available at http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/tattoo_artists_are_asserting_their_copyright_claims/