If you’re a visual artist, you might run into a dilemma where people start getting tattoos of your work. This is a sticky copyright situation, as technically you own the rights to your work, and if a tattoo artist replicates it then they are violating your copyright. Generally, tattoo artists are wary about where the artwork come from when a client brings a design in-- that’s why often you’ll find tattoo artists who only do their own original work. But copyright infringement still happens.
So if someone does want to get one of your works permanently inked on their body, what are you supposed to do?
Theoretically if this has already happened and you find out after the fact, you could go after the tattoo artist for copyright infringement (but not the recipient of the tattoo). But let’s assume that you’re not trying to get entangled in legal battles, and instead you just want to get ahead of any further design stealing-- your best course of action is to educate your following about copyright law and offer an opportunity for them to compensate you for your work.
The first thing you’ll want to make clear (somewhere on your website and/or social channels) is that you own the copyright to your work. If it is reproduced without your permission, then you can sue whoever is at fault. After you’ve gotten the scary legal language out of the way, offer up a way for your followers to gain your permission and a “license” of sorts to display your art on their body.
You should be compensated to some degree for creating the original work, which is why a figurative “license” is a good solution. Artist Frances Cannon offers a “tattoo ticket” for sale on her site for $55. She says, “If you are inspired by one of my existing drawings and would like to get it tattooed, this is an optional opportunity to pay for the design. I love seeing people tattoo my illustrations, and if you would like to support me as an artist this is a great way to do it!”
Similarly, the artist behind the Wild Unknown tarot deck created the Tattoo Karma Fund, where she asks that people make a $25 offering (that goes to charity) in exchange for using her tarot imagery in tattoos.
There are a number of routes you can take. Just don’t be afraid to stand up for your work and what it’s worth.
Creative Community Developer at Snapfluence.
I'm the Oxford comma's biggest fan.