Anyone who had a ‘Manchester Bee’ inked on their body and is thinking about adding to their ‘tat’ collection should make sure the design is not protected by copyright, warns leading intellectual property lawyer Susan Hall.
Susan, partner at the Manchester office of national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, warns people could be putting themselves at risk of a law suit when they choose a tattoo depicting their favourite band, computer game, slogan or celebrity.
Said Susan: “With a fifth of the population estimated to have at least one tattoo, it is important to understand that they could face legal action if they have a design inked on their body that is protected by copyright.
“In the case of the ‘Manchester Bee’, Manchester City Council holds the trademark and has made it available to use free of charge under licence provided a percentage of any profit generated on items featuring the trade mark are given to a named beneficiary charity.
“However, you may be a great fan of playing Assassin’s Creed and want to demonstrate your enthusiasm by having the logo tattooed on your body, but the design will have protection on how and where it can be used.
“It’s the same if you wish to depict the badge of your favourite sports team or a product that you adore. It does not mean you own the right to publish it on your own skin – most logos and symbols are protected by copyright.
“Even simply copying the design of a favourite celebrity could also put people in to a difficult legal situation as many have protected their images.”
Susan says tattoo artists themselves should likewise make sure they safeguard themselves from breaking the law.
She added: “There are complex rules around what is original work and what may be regarded as copyright. There have been court decisions and licensing agreements in the USA over celebrity tattoos, where the tattoo artist claims the rights to the work, rather than the person with the tattoo.
“If, for instance, the artist creates an original design on your skin and your friend decides, they’d like the same, they may find that by asking another tattoo artist to do this they are infringing the rights of the person who created the design.”
Susan says if in doubt, tattoo artists, or those wanting a highly visible tattoo, should check the legal situation before embarking on the work.
“All of these matters can be clarified by agreements between the tattoo artist and those they are working on at the time of the work. The artists can protect themselves by asking clients to sign an agreement clearly setting out on whom the onus lies for checking the intellectual property situation.
“I’m not suggesting there should be a lawyer sitting in every tattoo parlour. It is a creative process and often the artist and the person receiving the tattoo work together on the design and could claim joint ownership.
“But where an established and well-known symbol is being copied it is important to check the legalities and protect yourself from future action, whether you are an artist or simply a tattoo enthusiast.”
Law suits have already taken place in the US and there have been many long and expensive court cases over the years that revolve around the issue of copyright.
The most famous tattoo case centred on the tribal face tattoo of ex-boxer Mike Tyson. In 2011, Warner Bros was sued by Victor Whitmill, the artist who created it, regarding copyright infringement in the movie Hangover II. Whitmill designed the tattoo particularly for Tyson and therefore alleged the work was copyrighted. Warner Bros. settled the claim for an undisclosed sum.
With a fifth of the population estimated to have at least one tattoo, it is important to understand that they could face legal action if they have a design inked on their body that is protected by copyright.
Clarke Willmott LLP is a national law firm with seven offices across the country, in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.
For more information visit www.clarkewillmott.com