From celebs being sued to tattoo artists being blacklisted from their communities, stealing tattoos is no joke within the tattooing community but with millions of people getting the same rose or start tattoos, where do we really draw the line?
For anyone who’s gotten or thought of getting a tattoo before, the process is fairly direct. You either flick through a book of inspirations provided by the tattoo artist themselves or head to trusty old Google for some inspo.
Once you like a picture you ask your preferred tattoo artist to replicate it for you to varying degrees.
Tattoo artist Avalon Todaro says this is far more common than we think.
“Look, it happens. The second you put a tattoo on Insta, it’s all over the web, and it’s almost expected that it’ll be copied somewhere. It happens every single day. But any reputable artist doesn’t copy another artist’s work.”
According to Todaro, once the art is out in the world, there is no stopping it. From insta, these designs find their way onto Pinterest and Google Images where you can no longer trace them back to their original creators.
“I do a lot of vegan tatts. They’re very specific to me, and I see them done left, right and centre. If you jump on Pinterest and search ‘vegan tattoo’, you’ll see versions of my designs everywhere.”
Does copyright law extend to tattoo art? Dr. Marie Hadley of Newcastle University thinks so.
“Original tattoos can be copyright artworks like all other original artworks. The fact that they’re on the human body is not problematic for copyright law,”
“Some tattoo wearers in the US have sought to protect their tattoos from being copied by formally registering them with the US Copyright Office,” she further adds. “While there have not been any legal cases to confirm that a tattoo can be copyright work in Australia, it’s uncontroversial that line drawings in ink would fall within the definition.”
Todaro says that imitation might be the best form of flattery but there are limits. He says a line by line copy can be disheartening but when people take the time to track down the original artist to thank them, it can be some consolation.
Then is the onus of not plagiarising tattoos on tattooists that agree to make them, the people who search for them in the first place or is it a joint legal responsibility of the two parties?
“Ninety percent of the time, people are grateful that you’re offering them something new, something special.”, says Todaro, speaking about the time and effort he puts into creating original tattoos for his clients
Tattoo art is becoming more and more common these days and with that will come duplicate tattoos. It’s best to take advice from Todaro and understand the fine line between plagiarism and inspiration.