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Syracuse University Libraries

Tattoos and Copyright: Home

A fool-proof guide to understanding the implications of copyright in the field of tattooing, both for the patron and the artist.

What is Covered?

This LibGuide covers and speaks about tattoos that are not of an original design -- meaning the tattooed item is of another artists design, is of media aspects such as movie characters, animated series, and video games, of musical lyrics, of published excerpts, and of other relevant artistic objects subject to copyright. 


This LibGuide explores the idea of copyright and legality behind the tattooing of artwork with and without explicit permission. This would include defining whether or not certain pieces of artwork are considered protected by copyright, the legality of marketing/promotion of “stolen” artwork, copy-cat tattooing versus inspired tattooing, Creative Commons copyright-licenses, Fair Use, court cases relevant to the subject matter, royalties and permissions, and persecution – if relevant – of respective owners versus artists/clients. This will exemplify very complex ideas of HR and management on a micro level, particularly relating to the fact that tattoo artists operate within small studios and businesses. This also shows the value of ethics versus legality in an artistic setting. This concern can be cross-examined with the idea of literature, movies, music, TV shows, video games,  and physically manifested artwork that is explicitly copyrighted and how strictly we adhere to legal persecution within these formats.


Some questions to consider that will hopefully be answered through the manifestation of this LibGuide are as follows: Is it logical for copyright laws to apply to tattooing? Who is responsible in the cases of copyrighting work and stolen works -- the patron, the artist, or the studio? How does the subsequent overexposure and transparency of tattooed works on social media in modernity impact the severity of copyright infringement related to tattooing? 

Tattoos and Copyright Infringement

Fairly Inspired Tattoos

Picasso, Guernica tattooed by Okan Uckun

Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows tattooed by Chris Walkin

Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam tattooed by Lukasz Zglenicki

Dali, The Temptation of St. Anthony tattooed by Jamie Macpherson


This LibGuide was created for the purpose of exploring the complexities of copyright law relative to tattooing as an art form. It contains information, research, and links to resources about copyright. The information provided here should NOT be construed as legal advice. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.