Can you legally use an iconic photograph as the inspiration for a tattoo?
A lawsuit from photographer Jeff Sedlik against reality-tv-star and tattoo artist Kat Von D might just answer that very question.
The latter is being sued by the LA-based photographer for using one of his photographs of Miles Davis as the basis for a tattoo. According to PetaPixel, the photograph was prominently featured in LIFE as one of the best of the year back in 1989 and has appeared in multiple formats since that time.
Kat Von D is a tattoo artist known for her turn on LA Ink. She owns a tattoo shop in Hollywood and originally completed the work featuring Miles Davis back in 2017. She subsequently featured the finished project on her social media accounts where it likely came to the attention of Sedlik.
Billboard reports that previous attempts to settle out of court failed, as it so often goes in these stories.
In a statement to Billboard, Sedlik explains: “Ms. Von Drachenberg not only used Mr. Sedlik’s photograph without permission or license, but took credit for Mr. Sedlik’s creation as her own, distributing photographs of her unlawful derivate work to millions of social media followers, and supplying those photographs to publishers for inclusion of promotional editorials about Ms. Von Drachenberg and her various commercial ventures….Ms. Von Drachenberg failed to respect the creative work of a fellow artist, and chose to monetize Mr. Sedlik’s iconic photograph for her personal financial gain, exploiting the value of Mr. Sedlik’s photograph to build her brand and to promote the sale of her products and services.”
As multiple people are pointing out, the question of whether or not Kat Von D violated copyright laws will rest on whether or not her work was a transformative interpretation of Sedlik’s photograph given that a replica of a photograph on human skin is a pretty difficult task thus allowing for artistic license in order to make it work where necessary. Whatever the outcome, it should be interesting and we’ll keep you updated.
What do you think of the photographer’s lawsuit against Kat Von D? Should tattoo artists – or others for that matter – be allowed to recreate iconic photographs in another medium? How about doing that to make money? Let us know your thoughts on this in the comments below.
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