Oct 26, 2007

Flattering Copyright Infringement

'My Original Tribal Tattoo Art.'

I created the above artwork about two years ago. It was something I did for no other reason then to have fun. I've used it on several creative projects and a t-shirt design I give away when I do speaking gigs. It now seems this art is making it's way into the whole tattoo art sub-culture and people are helping themselves to the visual imagery and having it applied to their body without my permission.

Sure I am always flattered in a wierd kind of way by this type of artistic commitment, but I'd at least appreciate a request for permission first. My morbid curiosity wonders if I could sue them for copyright infringement and then legally have it removed?

'My artwork now graces the forearm of a German man.'

'A hostage quality picture of my art kidnapping the back of some headless body from God knows where?'

Neither of these two gentleman asked permission nor did they pay me a usage fee, but I digress.

In any regard I wish them well, I hope they enjoy it. But as I've said before: As for me and my torso I prefer a blank canvas. I just can't make that type of artistic commitment.

FYI: For information about my stock tribal designs or to have me create a custom tribal design for you visit VonsterTattoos.com.


inspectorfegter said...

That's terrible! You should have the right to take a tater peeler over there and take back what's yours.

Tom said...

Wow! I think a tater peeler might be a little much when some good 60 grit sandpaper would do the trick...

monk1ne said...


Great comments, especially with Halloween upon us.

Anyway, I was just thinking about the copyrights of tattoos the other day. I remember when I used to play basketball and I would always see these guys with the nike swoosh on thier ankle or an adidas logo on thier back. While I'm no lawyer, I think the copyright problem is more with the tattoo artist. He would be the one gaining financially from this. And it could be even more dispicable if they add the design to thier portfolio of things they offer. The person with the tatoo would most likely not be getting it for monetary reasons.

Love the designs though. And I agree, I would have trouble with the permanance of a tattoo. What if you get sick of the design? Too bad!

Vonster said...

I should say my comments in regards to this are more tongue in cheek then anything. I think the you're correct in that the tattoo artist should be the creative saying "Sorry I can't copy that since I don't own the art and you don't have permission to use it."

But the public at large should know that if they didn't buy it or create it then they can't legally use anymore then they can legally own downloaded music they didn't purchase.

I think this would make a very interesting episode for some TV law show though. An artist like me sueing a person who has put my art on themselves and then is legally made to remove it. Lots of good drama possibilities. LOL

BTW: The above storyline concept is copyright © 2007 Glitschka Studios. So any hollywood weasels googling for ideas don't think about stealing this because YOU I will pursue.

inspectorfegter said...

Great idea. I think it might make a good country song too.


MrPumpernickel said...

Could you have them remove it by means of legal coersion? Most likely no considering that it's fair use (private use). However, you could probably subphoena them so they would not be able to show said tattoo in any public way (i.e. no being shirtless on the beach for instance). Considering that the tattoo artist may have earned money from tattooing this you may also be entitled to some sort of compensation.

Though, with all that said, I'm quite into the whole tattoo and body mod field and I've never heard such a case going to court even though it's pretty common that people get tattoos of otherwise copyrighted material. It's much like most people turn a blind eye to it. While it may hurt some feelings I don't see much harm in it to tell the truth.

Vonster said...

Sorry but the "Fair Use" doctrine within the copyright law wouldn't support this. It's not offered to the public for free use nor did they create the art and those are the only areas of the "Fair Use" doctrine within copyright laws that would allow for use.

Would I be such a jerk to legally pursue any of this? No. I just think it's an interesting aspect of art, internet and copyright laws. Thus the motive for my post.

MrPumpernickel said...

Is it offered to the public for free? Yes and no. Fair use dictates that I can take your picture and pretty much use it in any non commercial, private, application that I wish. If I however make money from it or display it in a public context I am in the wrong. All I was arguing is that tattoos can fall under the fair use "doctrine", though they don't necessarily have too (especially considering most tattoo artists want to get paid, making it commercial and that most people want to show off their tattoos at some point making it public). Though, the tattoo artist isn't the one in the wrong, he's like Kinkos, the one wanting the actual copy is the one in the wrong.

Technically, if it didn't work like that it would be illegal to save a copy of an image from the web to your computer (something most internet browsers do automatically when building a cache anyway). When creating the Copyright Act of 1976 congress specifically decided that private use should be dealth within the context of fair use. Admittedly I don't know if there's been any changes since then though.

It is indeed an interesting aspect of both art, internet and copyright laws. I've heard this question raised many a time and I would love to see it tried in a court of law (call it morbid curiosity).

Vonster said...

I had to hire a copyright lawyer a few years ago so I know the "Fair Use" doctrine pretty well and I still don't think it would be covered. Doesn't matter what the 1976 law states because the new laws as stated in The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) say otherwise.

I've had my art stolen online by bigger fish in the internet pond like www.istockphoto.com (2 times), www.cafepress.com (2 times), www.orientaltradingcompany.com etc. and on those occasions I did pursue with copyright infringement via the DMCA and had the stores shut down and asked for usage fees based on work sold they didn't own.

I have to admit there are some serious flaws in the DMCA which online venues as listed above love to hide behind but it's pretty clear as to "Fair Use".

Technically an argument could be made that they could use them on their body but they'd have to add my copyright along with it. Example: This tattoo art is copyright © 2007 Glitschka Studios


inspectorfegter said...

Can you specify where your copyright would be placed?? lol This has been way too entertaining.

Vonster said...

LOL I nearly did a spit take with my coffee imagining a location.

MrPumpernickel said...

As said I wasn't entirely upto speed if there has been any changes, such as the DMCA. Though, that creates another question, how about the german man? His tattoo should not fall under US copyright law since he's in germany (and possibly got tattooed in sweden considering the URL on the pic).

It creates quite a few absurd ideas too, like if it is right for a court of law to order a person to go through medical procedures with no health benefits whatsoever over a copyright infringement (laser removal or dermabrasion both can leave pretty damn disfiguring scars)? Tattooing over the existing tattoo might be an easier thing to bring to life though.

I've had my works stolen more than at one occasion by both private and commercial interests as well, but I've never had to get any lawyers involved though (enforcing copyright law over country borders is hell). It's always annoying when it happens, though I have at all times been able to clear things up by sending a pricelist, bill and/or a cease and desist letter depending on the situation. So in a way I guess I've been lucky.

A case like this brought to court would create some pretty interesting precedents though.

Jafabrit said...

I don't think many people think about a tat design as being copyrighted (which is a beautiful design by the way).

ps. I found you by way of allbuyart.com, they have you listed on their art links. They asked me permission to include my link, was just wondering if it's a good think?

Matthew Corgan said...

That's a terrible thing to happen. You should've done something about that. I really enjoyed your blog and your posts. You should check out my blog sometime. It is http://classicvideogamereviews.blogspot.com

But the design looks awesome.

Joseph said...

HI at last I found you again. I found your tatto on the net about 20 months ago and totally fell in love with it. I wanted it tattooed but when I tried to contact you it was impossible. By then I still have print outs of the design but have not tattooed it. I am very very happy to find your blog again. I am in here ask you the permission to do so.
Still I agree with you that it is not fair of the other ones that used your design without permission. First it makes you feel much more better that you knwow who is carrying your creation for ever and even for me it is much more enjoyable that I know the artist who made the design of the artwork I am carrying till I ll die. Personally I have more tattoos that I found on the internet but I only made them after I asked the artists. Please I would be more than happy If you reply. I even would like to ask you some questions. Thankx in return.

Vonster said...


Until I have an ongoing legal matter wrapped up concerning this artwork which another company ripped-off and was selling nationally in stores within their product I cannot grant any permission for it's use.

The company has acted like a weasel even with a copyright lawyer involved now. They simply don't want to pay the reasonable amount for being weasels.

So keep checking back and eventually I should be able too. Thanks.


Johnny@My tattoos pictures said...

Nice site, I have added it to my favourites, greetings. What do You think about this mystrious tribal film
Mystrious tribal tattoos film

Johnny@Tattoo blog said...

Nice site, I have added it to my favourites, greetings. What do You think about this mystrious tribal film
Amazing & Mystrious tribal tattoos

Anonymous said...

well if ur not flattered or u r?u can copyrite n put an image blocker on ur pics so u dnt have to worry bout people thinkin ur artwork is amazing enough to wear on ther skin n take them places ur ass will nevr b!so do wat u gotta do hey ur better off just closing ur site n keepin ur artwork to urself!!sry but me bein a tattooist myself take it as a compliment that if someone wants to redo my designs!but i'am not expecting them to pay for it!!or cutting it off ther body!retards!if thats wat u want then make a site where u sell ur artwerk instaed of bitching and moaning bout ur starving artist!!!get real!

Vonster said...


I translated your Ebonics infused post and I guess what your saying is "You don't mind having your work ripped off because someone might walk around with it on their ass and you think that is pretty cool."

Well, what ever floats your boat man.


Dillon said...

Dude, are you serious? I'm an artist and I make art for people to enjoy it. If they're so moved by it that they want it tattooed on them I wouldn't be offended that they didn't ask my permission before altering their body with my art.

Seriously, don't be such a tool. And I'm sure any judge would laugh you out of court with such a bullshit case.

Plus, if you feel THAT personally attached to your designs then you wouldn't just print them on t-shirts and hand them out.

Just consider it a compliment/free promotion and stop bitching.


Vonster said...


So wanting someone to simply ask permission before using my art now relegates me to "tool" status?

Whether you personally like it or not the ownership of the art is mine and regardless of how much someone loves my art it doesn't change the fact they should ask permission to use it.

I'm not a lawyer so I can't honestly speculate as to what a judge would do and neither can you. I do however know and fully understand the DMCA and it doesn't support your premise at all.

I do find it humorous how others can tell me how I shouldn't care so much when someone steals my art and should just be flattered.

I suppose all the other intellectual properties out their should just consider it a compliment/free promotion and stop bitching when others pirate their goods too huh?

Dillion, I suggest you visit www.commonsense.com and download a clue.


Bloodylip said...

Ok, so before I even saw this blog I was on google images and came across your Tribal Face art. Clicked on it, and then clicked See Full Size Image before the blog loaded. Sorry bro, It's on my forearm. But here is some advice, if you dont want people stealing it then maybe you shouldn't post it around anymore complaining, I mean I understand what you are upset about but telling everyone about it would only make it worse. Wish you the best of luck in whatever you do! and thanks for a nice tat.

Vonster said...


I can only assume some people are lazy and just don't bother reading through a blog post?

If you want to use the art, my art or anyone's art for that matter you don't just pull it up on Google and assume it's FREE. It's FREE to view, but as soon as you nab it and use it you've violated simple copyright laws.

This isn't my opinion mind you this is the facts. For you to say "If you dont want people stealing it then maybe you shouldn't post it around anymore." is at best a logical cop out.

What you're really saying is "I don't want to take responsibility for my actions so I'm going to put the blame on you so I can keep doing what I'm doing regardless if it's legal or not."

If you would have asked, I would have no problem with you using it. But it's my choice to decide if you can use it because it's my art not yours.

In any regard shoot me an email info@vonster.com with a picture of your forearm, I'd like to at least see how it came out.


Oscar Godson said...

@Bloodylip hahaha are you serious or just joking? It's on the Internet and no where does it say "free" or "download here" or anything. this is obviously not copyleft at all.

Also, I give away most of my art/code/etc for free, but I would be pissed if no one gave me recognition because I'd want other people to know it is free and I wouldn't want people SELLING IT if it were free ripping others off.

Finally, are we all supposed to take off our logos? Because logos are on the web site, so I guess I can take Coke's, Pepsi's Apple's, etc logos and then make stuff with the logos on it and sell it? That makes no sense either but it's exactly what you are saying.

gabrielm said...

It still astounds me that people will pull tattoo images off the internet - without knowing the meaning, cultural significance or even who the artist was.

Not only did the "German man" (bloodylip?) steal your art, but he also screwed up the forehead and around the eyes.

Perhaps you should create a killer "tribal image" with some hidden message and then sit back and see how many people tag themselves with it!

Traci Islands said...

Hello Von, First I want to say I feel for your frustration as an artist to protect your works. This is a very touchy subject, as far as the tattoo community because the art is not being used for monetary gain but for the sole purpose of body art and love of the design. I think it would be best that any artwork that you post that you require exclusive permission to use in any way should have a copyright statement.
Here is a link that may help: http://www.rcfp.org/handbook/c10p06.html
By the way, I love that design!
All the best Traci Islands

Jason Bennett said...

Hi Von, I'm a fellow Portlander and designer/illustrator, and feel your frustration, though I do feel it a bit unrealistic for everyone to ask for permission.

If anything I create goes online, I know there is a great chance of it being ripped off or stolen. That's just how it is. You have stated several times the reality of the DMCA, and I would also argue the reality of the current state of piracy on the web. It's just how it is, and the DMCA will need to evolve and catch up with the online world. It's the same argument with music, movie, and software torrents. The new online generation just doesn't understand copyright, or just doesn't care.

I can't tell you how many times I've had clients come to me with stolen images and content, and ask to use it on their website. While we work with this type of thing every day, and can explain how it is illegal, most of the world has no idea that google images are not ok to use. I think you would also admit that the law is a very complex, and hard to understand law, especially when you don't deal with it daily.

In the case of tattooing, it's a hard subject to handle. I would imagine the person being tattooed had no idea what they were talking about. The tattoo artist might have, but in my opinion, tattoo artists are paid to perform the service of tattooing. If they have the flash on the wall, or are selling it as an original commissioned piece, that's a different story. If someone comes in with a print, and asks for it, I can't say they would be at fault necessarily. How would they know if the art was stolen or not, or how to track you down?

In any case, tattooing is an industry that has always broken rules. From jailhouse tattoos, to biker and gang tattoos, people just don't care. Similar to graffiti, tattoo is just a whole other thing. Do you think Playboy sues everyone with a playboy logo tattooed on them? I would guess not.

As far as the Imperial Toy, LLC case goes, I would wholeheartedly agree with you. I would expect any designer/manufacturer to understand copyright and act accordingly. That's just plain dirty.

So, all in all, I agree with the heart and overall spirit of your post, I just can't say that I would expect anyone to do so. The web is a mysterious place that's very hard to police. That's really just the way it is. In a way, it's our job as designers/illustrators, to adapt to that reality.

evia said...

hi, i am 16 and have completely fallen in love with this peice and the tribal bat you have designed. i have been attempting to get my friends to draw me a tattoo and so far nothing has worked out. it is surprisingly difficult to get friends that do not approve of tattoos to draw you a tattoo. but i was wondering if you could possibly give me permission to use your designs. i ofcourse would like your permission to do so, i wouldnt want someone stealing any of my art. either way your art is completely amazing, i wish i could be as talented as you are. thank you very much.

evia said...

hi, i am 16 and have completely fallen in love with this peice and the tribal bat you have designed. i have been attempting to get my friends to draw me a tattoo and so far nothing has worked out. it is surprisingly difficult to get friends that do not approve of tattoos to draw you a tattoo. but i was wondering if you could possibly give me permission to use your designs. i ofcourse would like your permission to do so, i wouldnt want someone stealing any of my art. either way your art is completely amazing, i wish i could be as talented as you are. thank you very much.

Vonster said...


Yes, you have my permission to use this to get tattooed. My only request is that you email me a picture of the final tattoo when it's done so I can see it.

Thank you for asking I appreciate it.

If you email me I'll give you a nice PDF you can print out and take to your tattoo shop so they'll get it nice and precise.

For email see top right of this blog in sidebar.


Misha said...

I knew I saw that before! that is I found it now( googling for something else ).. this

maybe you should find a way to hide your name in those complicated whirls :- ), so anyone who copies your work also has the name of the original

Heather Coates said...

Wow. I love how people are ARGUING with you on your own blog about how you don't have the right to request people ask you first if it's ok to get your work tattooed on their bodies. "If you didn't want people to steal it you shouldn't put it online!" I wonder how many of those same folks would be ticked off is somebody stole their Facebook pictures and used them without permission? Ugh. Idiots like that make me question humanity sometimes.

I think your work is awesome, and although I don't intend to get any other tattoos, yours would be one I'd consider (and ask permission first)!