Tattoo artist Kat Von D won her copyright dispute over her use of a photo of Miles Davis on Friday. Von D was taken to court by photographer Jeffrey Sedlik, who took the photograph of the jazz giant in 1989. Sedlik iniated the lawsuit in 2021 after Von D used it as inspiration for a free tattoo for a friend.
The jury allegedly took just three hours to come to the verdict that the image was fair use. They ruled that the tattoo, as well as the planning sketches and related social media posts, were not “sufficiently similar” to the source photograph at the centre of the trail.
“I’m extremely happy and grateful and very thankful,” Von D told Rolling Stone. “It’s been two years of a nightmare, worrying about the outcome. Not just for me but for all my fellow tattooers and all the people who have been fans of people they’ve gotten tattooed,” she added.
The photographer had originally asked for $150,000 plus $42,750 in actual damages. During the trial, Sedlik told the court how he had spent three years setting up and planning the image of Davis. He described how he had planned everything about the shoot, including how he directed the musician to make the ‘shhhhh’ gesture with his fingers.
Sedlik’s lawyer Robert Allen, said that his client was saddened by the outcome and plans to appeal the verdict. Allen emphasized that his case was about compensating artists fairly for their work, not about coming after people with tattoos.
Is it fair use?
In Von D’s defence, her lawyer argued that artists cannot copyright a camera angle, lighting, pose or gesture. “It’s important to the tattoo industry, and it’s important to people who want to get tattoos,” Von D’s lawyer Allen Grodsky stated. He added that Von D had never sought licenses before to make tattoos and that it had never been a problem.
However, just because you’ve always done something that way, does it make it right? It’s been an interesting case, and I’m surprised the jury came to their conclusion so rapidly perhaps because no money exchanged hands.
But doing something for free doesn’t automatically make it right, especially when you consider Von D’s influencer status and ability to generate a lot of money just through her social media posts.
Sedlik and his lawyer stated that they thought the jury was easily influenced by Von D’s personable and likeable nature and that they came to a decision far too swiftly.
The verdict was easy,” one juror told Rolling Stone. “One tattoo on a person’s skin is not like selling a painting.” I personally see an enormous disconnect here.
Another juror apparently said, “Every tattoo is unique.” Just like every photograph is unique then, until it isn’t, and a jury decides that it’s fair use to create derivative art from your own photographs.
I’m not surprised that photographers are confused by everything. Just last year, photographer Lynn Goldsmith won her lawsuit against the Andy Warhol Estate for unauthorised use of her photo of Prince. It’s likely the Goldsmith/Warhol lawsuit influenced Sedlik to take Von D to court, assuming that he would win in a similar way.
However, even though Goldsmith won her case, she was still liable to pay massive court costs and ended up selling her house anyway.
As always, it seems like the photographer never really wins.
[via rolling stone]