Celebrity Tattoo Artist Kat Von D Wins Copyright Infringement Dispute After Being Sued Over Tattoo

Celebrity Tattoo Artist Katherine Von Drachenberg, won a legal battle concerning copyright infringement оn January 26, 2024, when the jury unanimously ruled that her tattoo, which was a reproduction of a photograph of American jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer Miles Davis, did not constitute copyright infringement.

Namely, the case centres around a photo of the jazz musician Miles Davis, which was taken by the plaintiff, Jeffrey B. Sedlik, photographer. This portrait was first published in JAZZIZ Magazine in 1989.

At the trial, the determination of the fact whether Kat Von D’s tattoo is substantially similar to Sedlik’s photo, to the extent of its illegal appropriation, was of crucial importance and in that way it would contribute to determine whether it constitutes a violation of the photographer’s rights.

Sedlik filed his lawsuit against Kat Von D in California District Court in 2021, for copying protectable elements of his photograph and using images of the tattoo on her social media account.

Kat Von D’s defense was based on the principle of “fair use” (as an exception to copyright infringement) because the tattoo was not “substantially similar” to Sedlik’s photo, as well as the fact that she tattooed her friend for free. However, the plaintiff’s position was that although the tattoo was a service for a friend, the posts of the tattoo on social media were of a commercial nature, as they aimed to promote her services.

In this case, Kat Von D managed to prove that there is no violation of the intellectual property rights of the famous photographer, in such a way that her tattoo and the images of the tattoo later published on her social media account, are not substantially similar to the photo (portrait) of the musician taken by the plaintiff, and that it was not used for commercial purposes.

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