Getting Your Favorite Musician’s Tattoo Could Risk A Lawsuit (Seriously!)

A new trial is underway involving famous tattoo artist Kat Von D and photographer Jeffrey Sedlik, which might impact fans with musician tattoos in the future.

The case, being heard in a Los Angeles courtroom, centers around a tattoo of jazz artist Miles Davis, based on a well-known photograph, showing him mimicking a ‘shh’ gesture. The jury is now tasked with deciding whether this tattoo is under fair use or not.

The Ongoing Lawsuit

The trial began on a Tuesday in Los Angeles, as Sedlik sued Von D for tattooing on her friend Blake Farmer a 1989 photo of Miles Davis taken and trademarked by him in 2017.

After seeing a picture of the tattoo on the artist’s Instagram page, the photographer accused her of illegally copying his copyrighted photo. But, in the trial’s opening, Von D’s lawyer, Allen B. Grodsky, told the jury:

“You will see that there are many differences: differences in the position and shape of shadows, difference in the use of light, difference in the hairstyle, differences in the shape and rendering of the eyes.”

He went on:

“Kat Von D’s interpretation of Miles Davis had a sentiment that was more melancholy than Mr. Sedlik’s, and you’ll see that it has movement that’s not found in his. Kat Von D did not attempt to monetize the tattoo in any way. She did not make photos of prints that she sold. She didn’t sell tee shirts or mugs. She didn’t sell products in any way.”

Jeffrey Sedlik’s Accusations

Despite claims that Von D did not use the tattoo for profit, Sedlik’s testimony focused on its popularity on her social media platforms, receiving thousands of likes across multiple brands.

As noted by the Copyright Alliance, the photographer’s complaint included accusations of unauthorized reproduction, distribution, and making derivative works. He also challenged the tattoo artist’s claim of creating the portrait, alleging falsification of copyright management information under the DMCA.

The Possible Outcome And Its Effect On Fans

In the end, the jury will have to decide whether Kat Von D’s recreation of the photo, which was copyrighted in 1994, falls under the ‘fair use’ doctrine.

Suppose Sedlik wins the lawsuit despite the doctrine allowing limited use of copyrighted works without permission. In that case, the decision may open the way for more lawsuits concerning fans with similar tattoos and the artists who make them in the upcoming years.