Article May 24, 2016


Tattoos have undergone something of a revival over the last decade or so. Once the pastime of mariners, squaddies and the archetypal rebel, the tattoo has now become thoroughly mainstream; David Dimbleby reportedly has a scorpion on his shoulder, Jennifer Aniston has a tribute to her late dog Norman (RIP), and even Samantha Cameron has one – perhaps we are all in this together after all.

Yes, there are still plenty of people getting “I love Kev” inked onto their waist at 3am in a fluorescent lit tattoo parlour, choosing fonts from a laminated folder, pages sticky with vodka-red bull. But for the budding connoisseur, the quest now is to have a strikingly original design by a true artist.

What many do not realise, however, is that although you may have commissioned the “artwork” to be indelibly sunk into your skin, the artwork itself is automatically subject to copyright protection, and the owner isn’t you, but the tattoo artist. The issue of copyright ownership and tattoos was the subject of a high profile case brought by the creator of Mike Tyson’s interesting facial artwork, Victor Whitmill, and Warner Brothers. Mr Whitmill alleged that the defendant had failed to pay royalties for the tattoo’s appearance in the film The Hangover II. Of course copyright, like other forms of IP, may be transferred under license, so if you are considering getting inked, maybe bring counsel with you just in case. The Intellectual Property Office has written an expansive and rather interesting article on the matter of IP and tattoos which you can find here: