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Kat Von D Copyright Infringement in Miles Davis Tattoo Case

A recent jury decision has brought relief to celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D, who was embroiled in a legal battle over a tattoo she created based on a portrait

Kat Von D Copyright Infringement in Miles Davis Tattoo Case
  • PublishedFebruary 17, 2024

A recent jury decision has brought relief to celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D, who was embroiled in a legal battle over a tattoo she created based on a portrait of jazz legend Miles Davis. The jury ruled that Von D did not violate photographer Jeffrey Sedlik’s copyright when she used his portrait of Davis as inspiration for the tattoo she inked on a friend’s arm. Kat Von D Cleared of Copyright Infringement in Miles Davis Tattoo Case

The dispute centred around a 1989 portrait of Miles Davis captured by Sedlik, which he later copyrighted in 1994. Von D’s rendition of the portrait, which she turned into a tattoo as a gift for her friend around seven years ago, sparked the legal proceedings. The jury deliberated for just over two hours before reaching their decision, determining that Von D’s tattoo and related social media posts did not sufficiently resemble Sedlik’s original work to warrant copyright infringement.

Von D, known for her appearances on reality TV shows like “Miami Ink” and “LA Ink,” expressed her relief outside the courtroom, stating, “I’m obviously very happy for this to be over.” The legal battle, which lasted two years, weighed heavily on her and her fellow tattoo artists.

The jury’s decision also addressed the issue of fair use, a crucial exception in copyright law that allows for commentary, criticism, and parody. Von D argued that her tattooing of Davis’s portrait was a form of “fan art” and that she did not profit from reproducing the image. Her attorney emphasized this lack of commercial gain as essential to establishing fair use.

On the other side, Sedlik’s attorney contended that Von D’s social media posts promoting the tattoo constituted a form of monetizing the image, thus infringing upon Sedlik’s copyright. The jury’s verdict, however, found that only some of the social media posts fell within the realm of fair use. In contrast, others were deemed not substantially similar to Sedlik’s original work.

Throughout the trial, Von D maintained that she never licensed the images she recreated and viewed her tattooing as a form of artistic expression rather than a commercial endeavour. Despite the legal victory, Von D expressed ambivalence about returning to her work as a tattoo artist, acknowledging that the ordeal had taken an emotional toll.

The case underscored broader questions about the intersection of copyright law and creative expression, particularly within the realm of tattoo artistry. While the jury’s decision favoured Von D in this instance, it also highlighted the complexities inherent in navigating intellectual property rights in the digital age.

Looking ahead, Sedlik’s attorney has indicated plans to appeal the jury’s decision. The outcome of the case serves as a reminder of the importance of understanding and respecting copyright laws, even in the context of artistic interpretation and homage.

Kat Von D Photos

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