I own the copyright in my tattoo, right?

I own the copyright in my tattoo, right?
11 May 2018

Tattoos are no longer taboo. From the grunge metal singer in your local bar to the CEO of a fortune 500 company, tattoos are commonplace in modern society. Most neighbourhoods will have at least one tattoo parlour that will offer a broad spectrum of designs which you can choose from or you can request a custom design to be made up for you.

However, have you ever stopped to think about who owns the copyright in that exquisite piece of art on your bicep? Well, unless their was an assignment of the copyright in the image on your arm in writing, the owner is someone other than you.

So what you may ask- it is on my body and I can do with it what I like, right? Well, technically not. A tattoo is classified as an artistic work in terms of the South African Copyright Act and therefore only the owner of the work may reproduce the work or make an adaption thereof. As such every time you take a picture of your tattoo and post it on a social media platform you are in fact infringing the copyright of the owner of the work as this would constitute a reproduction of the work.

The same principles apply when getting a custom design made up based on an image off the Internet, say for instance the Rolling Stones logo. Although you may adapt it and in your mind this is a new work, you would still be infringing the copyright of the owner as this would constitute an adaption and an infringement of the original work. When in doubt, get an original work created for you without reference to any other works and ask the artist to assign it to you in writing- if they are happy to do so.

Whilst copyright law may not be the first thing on your mind when popping into your local tattoo parlour for your first tattoo, it is certainly something to consider or else you may be in for some expensive laser surgery.

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Robin Richardson
Robin Richardson

Robin is an Associate and Trade Mark Attorney at KISCH IP. He has experience in trade mark searching, filing and prosecution, trade mark brand portfolio management and audits, as well as in litigation concerning trade marks, unlawful competition, passing off and copyright. Robin also deals with trade mark assignments, domain name disputes and social media complaints, and company name objections.

Send a legal query to Robin Richardson
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