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Tattoo copyrights

- Featured article by LAWYERS-ONLINE.CO.ZA - May 2018

Tattoos have become a popular trend in the new world. It is no longer exclusively the ways of rock bands and the biker communities. It has become a delicate and favored art form. People choose their favorite quotes, logos and even random Internet-found designs and permanently place it on their bodies.

But…what about copyrights?

One might think “my body, my choice and I can do with it whatever I want to”. You couldn’t be more wrong. Copyright laws are definitely not the first thing to cross anyone’s mind when picking out a design for the first time, or even post photos of your “new ink” on social media.

However, it is well worth knowing that a tattoo is classified as an artistic work in terms of the South African Copyright Act. This means that only the owner of the art work can reproduce it or make an adaptation thereof. As a result, and what you probably don’t know, every time you take a photo of your tattoo and post it online you are actually infringing on the copyright of the owner of the work. The reason being, it is considered as a form of reproduction.

Unless there is an assignment made in writing that the work you placed on your body belongs to you, it belongs to the tattoo artist. You might think that a custom design picked off the Internet changes things, but it doesn’t. The same principle applies. It is also true when a design is customized by you.

The best way to avoid infringing on copyright laws is to get an original design created specifically for you, without any relation to other works and asking the artist to assign it to you in writing, should they be happy to do so.

Of course, the copyright laws around tattoos leave plenty of room for questions and doubt. Once the tattoo is assigned to you, does that mean the artist cannot display the work on social media for portfolio and marketing purposes without now infringing on your copyright?

If the tattoo artist is not open to assigning the work to you, ask for permission to post it online before just posting. This is seldom a problem since tattoo artists often use their clients to contribute to their marketing, but just to be safe, get it in writing.

For further information with regards to the copyrights of your tattoos, consult an attorney from our Lawyers Online.

Tattoo Copyrights - Legal Information South Africa