Tattoo artists reign supreme in the Kat Von Drachenberg, or “Kat Von D,” victory against copyright infringement. Friday afternoon, a California jury voted in favor of celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D, stating “[she] did not violate a photographer’s copyright when she used [the] portrait of Miles Davis as the basis for a tattoo she put on the arm of a friend.”
Von D inked a rendition of Jeffrey Sedlik's 1989 photo of Miles Davis on a friend for free back in 2017. Sedlik had trademarked the photo in 1994 and in 2021 sued Von D on the grounds of fair use. Sedlik's lawyer Robert Edward Allen emphasized to the media that Sedlik had meticulously set up the shoot; he set the lighting and mood to devise the infamous Davis pose that ended up being an iconic photo; first published on the cover of JAZZIZ magazine in 1989.
The little over two year battle became a four day trial with a three hour deliberation. The motivation for the plaintiff was that Von D had used his work to render profit via social media promotion. His attorney argued “the posts about the tattoo were a promotion of her and her studio, and thus a form of monetizing the image.” The defendant's stance was that she made “fan art which [she] is not making money from or mass reproducing.” The defense counsel offered that the posts were to show the fan art as other artists show their own on social media, whether it be tattoos, paintings, photos, sketches, etc.
This trial exemplifies the push towards censorship. Sedlik and his Attorney plan to appeal which invokes the question who is at fault, the tattoo artist or the client? Tattoo artists across the nation watched with anxiety. Many tattoo shops and clients have spoken to Von D's defense. Fans of art should not be punished by the greed of the artist. The 41-year old Von D is one of the most well known tattoo artists in the country due to her appearances on TLC’s “Miami Ink” starting in 2005 and the spinoff, “LA Ink,” which ran from 2007 to 2011.
Despite the victory the celebrity artist said, “I think I don’t want to ever tattoo again, my heart has been crushed through this in different ways. We’ll see with time.”