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Photographer Sues Kat Von D for Copyright Infringement

Photographer Is Suing Kat Von D for Copyright Infringement

On February 7, 2021, a relatively well-known photographer, Jeff Sedlik, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D. Sedlik alleges that she used his copyrighted photograph without consent or permission.

According to the photographer, Kat Von D published an image of herself giving someone a tattoo to her Instagram page. The tattoo strongly resembled a photograph he took more than 30 years ago.

Dubbed as the Miles Davis photograph, the iconic image depicts a black gentleman holding his pointing finger over his lips as if to indicate or suggest a request for silence. For close to three decades, the image has been seen worldwide on covers and in magazines. The picture even graced the cover of Life Magazine. It is an image that is very familiar to most artists and creative professionals.

In his copyright infringement suit, Sedlick is demanding at least $150,000 in compensation.
He is also demanding that Kat Von D stop using his photograph in her work.

There is no denying that Kat Von D did use Sedlik’s photograph as a reference for the tattoo. At least at a glance, the completed tattoo has a distinct and highly similar likeness to the original photograph. But is this enough to hold Kat Von D liable for copyright infringement?

What Are Some Basic Rules of Copyright?

Copyright essentially bestows ownership over a creative or original work – especially when it comes to commercial endeavors. It is a “right to copy,” so to speak.

Copyright infringement refers to the act of using or replicating a protected, registered, or copyrighted work without first obtaining authorization or permission from the owner or holder of the same.

Under US law, a copyright is deemed registered when an application is filed with the US Copyright Office.

Understanding the repercussions of registration versus non-registration is crucial for enforcing your rights and obtaining compensation under copyright law. To protect your legal rights against infringement, consult with our experienced lawyers representing photographers.

What is Derivative Work Under Copyright Law?

Derivative work is essentially something that is based on a single or multiple set of preexisting works. In other words, if an original or existing image is recast, transformed, or adapted in a way that, as a whole, the new item represents the original, it may be deemed as a derivative.

Derivative works require authorization by the person who holds the copyright to the original work on which the derivative was based. By creating something derivative without permission or license, you might be committing copyright infringement.

But, determining what is and is not derivative and what is and is not infringement can be complicated.

Did Kat Von D’s Tattoo Violate The Photographer’s Copyright?

The outcome of the lawsuit, of course, remains to be seen. The case is still fresh and in its early stages. How it unfolds might change the copyright landscape for tattoo artists, photographers, and other creative professionals.

A tattoo itself has been the subject of copyright infringement. There was a case involving Mike Tyson’s face tattoo. His tattoo artist sued Warner Brothers for copyright infringement when a character in the Hangover 2 woke up with a replica of the tattoo he inked on Tyson’s face.
The parties resolved the case out of court.

The Kat Von D lawsuit is slightly different. Kat Von D is not being accused of copying an existing tattoo but a photograph. Transforming a photo into a tattoo takes special skill and artistry, but several things are not yet clear. Some questions the court might consider:

  • Was the tattoo derivative of the original picture?
  • Did she transform the picture into something completely original?
  • Is creating a tattoo original in and of itself?
  • Was the picture inspiration?

How the court decides to handle these questions might affect how we view copyright cases involving tattoo art in the future. With the popularity of tattoos, this case’s results might encourage an avalanche of copyright lawsuits involving tattoo art.

Contact Our Copyright Lawyers Today!

Here at Sanders Law Group, we pride ourselves on providing our creative clients with excellent legal services. Our experienced copyright infringement lawyers are committed to giving you outstanding legal support and services.

Contact us today at 888-348-3090 or 516-233-1660 to set up a free copyright consultation without any commitment on your part. We are here to help ensure that your rights and your work are protected. When someone infringes on your copyright, we want you to collect the maximum damages you are entitled to. Call Sanders Law Group for copyright infringement help today.


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