Who owns the copyright to tattoos?
In March 2020, a historical copyright lawsuit took place in the US. It was introduced by a tattoo artist whose designs featured on the bodies of NBA players whose likenesses have been reproduced in a online game.
It all started in 2016 when game publisher company Take-Two Interactive created a game with NBA players. The tattoo company Solid Oak Sketches sued them for the unauthorized reproduction of its tattoo designs on LeBron James and other players.
The judge stated that “tattooists necessarily granted the Players nonexclusive licenses to use the Tattoos as part of their likenesses.” And in a court in 2018 LeBron James himself said: “I always thought that I had the right to license what I look like to other people for various merchandise, television appearances, and other types of creative works, like video games”. Turns out he was right. The judge agreed with that, added that the likenesses of the tattoos have been lower than a 10th of the scale of the real-life tattoos, so copyright infringement did not apply in this case.
Whether the decision will influence future cases on body art remains to be seen.
So, it seems that we have an answer to the question, who owns the copyright to tattoos: the artist who designed it or the individual.