February 26th, 2024

Tattoo artist Kat Von D didn’t violate photographer’s copyright of Miles Davis portrait, jury says

By Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press on January 26, 2024.

FILE - Tattoo artist Kat Von D poses for photographers during the presentation of her new line of makeup in Madrid, Spain, Oct. 7, 2015. On Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, a jury found that celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D did not violate a photographer's copyright when she used his portrait of Miles Davis as the basis for a tattoo she put on the arm of a friend. (AP Photo/Abraham Caro Marin, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A jury found Friday that celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D did not violate a photographer’s copyright when she used his portrait of Miles Davis as the basis for a tattoo she put on the arm of a friend.

The Los Angeles jury deliberated for just over two hours before deciding that the tattoo by the former star of the reality shows “Miami Ink” and “LA Ink” was not similar enough to photographer Jeffrey Sedlik’s 1989 portrait of the jazz legend that she needed to have paid permission.

“I’m obviously very happy for this to be over,” Von D, who inked her friend’s arm with Davis as a gift about seven years ago, said outside the courtroom. “It’s been two years of a nightmare worrying about this, not just for myself but for my fellow tattoo artists.”

The eight jurors made the same decision about a drawing Von D made from the portrait to base the tattoo on, and to several social media posts she made about the process, which were also part of Sedlik’s lawsuit. And they found that the tattoo, drawing and posts also all fell within the legal doctrine of fair use of a copyrighted work, giving Von D and other tattoo artists who supported her and followed the trial a resounding across-the-board victory.

“We’ve said all along that this case never should have been brought,” Von D’s attorney Allen B. Grodsky said after the verdict. “The jury recognized that this was just ridiculous.”

Sedlik’s attorney Robert Edward Allen said they plan to appeal. He said it the images, which both featured a close-up of Davis gazing toward the viewer and making a “shh” gesture, were so similar he didn’t know how the jury could reach the conclusion they did.

“If those two things are not substantially similar, then no one’s art is safe,” Allen said.

He told jurors during closing arguments earlier Friday that the case has “nothing to do with tattoos.”

“It’s about copying others’ protected works,” Allen said. “It’s not going to hurt the tattoo industry. The tattoo police are not going to come after anyone.”

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