It seems that wherever you look today you will see a tattooed body part. A recent survey revealed more than one in ten Americans admitted to having one. See ABC7News Article. 40 percent of adults aged 26-40 say they have one. Id. According to Ally Law member firm Phillips Nizer, “When something becomes as obviously popular as tattooing, it tells us that it is time, of course, to consider the legal implications.” While growing in public acceptance, there remain limits as to what an employer may find to be acceptable “tats” on an employee. The U.S. military, for instance, has the right to refuse potential enlistees who have what is deemed excessive or ‘grossly offensive’ tattooing; these undefined terms may, of course, someday lead to a First Amendment objection as a bar to freedom of speech.
An interesting issue arises as to the ownership of the copyright of the tattoo artwork. While you might think you own the art emblazoned on your body, with certain exceptions the copyright in the (original) artwork worn by a tattooed person is the tattoo artist. That is, the art owner is the person with the tattoo gun who created the art on your body. In the case of tattoo art to which the copyright is owned by another – for instance, Mickey Mouse or the Batmobile – it is theoretically possible that you as the wearer of the copyrighted art could be caught in a legal fight with the copyright owner, although the owner’s remedy is difficult to imagine (mandatory tattoo removal?). To date there are no known cases in the U.S. on this issue, but it is not unlikely we will eventually see one.
Ally Law member firm Phillips Nizer regularly addresses intellectual property-related issues in its interesting and always topical The Fashion Industry Law Blog. Should you have questions about copyright, trademark, or patents law for your business, whether your industry is tattoo art or mechanical engineering, consult with one of the more than 60 global Ally Law member firms. For more information about Ally Law member firm services in this area, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.