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Kat Von D Successfully Defends Copyright Infringement Action for her use of a Photo of Miles Davis


A federal jury found recently that a tattoo by famous tattoo artist Katherine von Drachenberg (known as Kat Von D), did not infringe the copyright of photographer, Jeffrey Sedlick. Sedlick took a famous photo of Miles Davis, and sued Kat Von D when she used the photograph as a reference for creating a tattoo and on her social media. She posted a photograph of the tattoo, alongside a drawing she created in preparation for the tattoo based on the photograph, to her Instagram page.

On January 26, 2024, the jury handed down its verdict and cleared Von D and her studio of all claims of copyright infringement. The tattoo was considered not substantially similar to the original photograph. As a result, the jury concluded that the tattoo and the social media posts depicting it were not infringing works. Additionally, Von D’s posts were also considered fair use because they were sufficiently transformative and lacked a commercial purpose.

If Sedlick had won the case, tattoo artists would effectively have to ensure that reference photographs for their tattoos were either in the public domain, or the copyright holder otherwise granted permission for that use. This would substantially affect the tattoo industry, where using a reference photograph without license or permission from the original artist is standard practice.

The verdict for Von D supports the fair use defense for tattoo artists who use copyrighted works as reference images in creating tattoos. If Sedlick appeals the case, however, as his attorney has suggested interest in doing, a reversal by the court of appeals could have significant ramifications for the tattoo industry.