While Pete Davidson covered his Manchester Bee-inspired tattoo with a black heart because of his breakup with Ariana Grande, anyone else with Manchester Bee ink should consider a cover up too, intellectual property lawyers warn.
Susan, partner at the Manchester office of national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, says people could be putting themselves at risk of a lawsuit when they choose a tattoo depicting their favorite band, computer game, slogan, or celebrity.
This, according to intellectual property lawyers, includes the “Manchester Bee” logo as a tattoo, if not protected by copyright.
Susan said, “With a fifth of the population estimated to have at least one tattoo, it is important to understand that they could face legal action if they have a design inked on their body that is not protected by copyright.”
She continued, “In the case of the “Manchester Bee”, Manchester City Council holds the trademark and has made it available to use free of charge under licence provided a percentage of any profit generated on items featuring the trade mark are given to a named beneficiary charity.”
She sites the example of the video game, Assassin’s Creed. You may be a great fan of playing the and want to show your enthusiasm in ink, by having the logo tattooed on your body. However, the design will have protection on how and where it can be used.
“It’s the same if you wish to depict the badge of your favourite sports team or a product that you adore,” she said. “It does not does not mean you own the right to publish it on your own skin. Most logos and symbols are protected by copyright.”
Even simply copying the design of a favorite celebrity could also put people in to a difficult legal situation as many have protected their images.
To many tattoo artists, copying ink in the tattoo world is completely morally wrong.
Susan touched upon tattoo artists similarly making sure they safeguard themselves from breaking the law.
“There are complex rules around what is original work and what may be regarded as copyright,” she said. “There have been court decisions and licensing agreements in the USA over celebrity tattoos, where the tattoo artist claims the rights to the work, rather than the person with the tattoo.”
“If, for instance, the artist creates an original design on your skin and your friend decides, they’d like the same, they may find that by asking another tattoo artist to do this they are infringing the rights of the person who created the design.”
Susan said if in doubt: tattoo artists, or those wanting a highly visible tattoo, should check the legal situation before embarking on the work.
“All of these matters can be clarified by agreements between the tattoo artist and those they are working on at the time of the work. The artists can protect themselves by asking clients to sign an agreement clearly setting out on whom the onus lies for checking the intellectual property situation.”
Luckily, Susan clarifies that she isn’t suggesting there should be a lawyer in every tattoo shop. She agrees, “It is a creative process and often the artist and the person receiving the tattoo work together on the design and could claim joint ownership.”
But, she is suggesting, “where an established and well-known symbol is being copied it is important to check the legalities and protect yourself from future action, whether you are an artist or simply a tattoo enthusiast.”
Lawsuits have already taken place in the US. But there has been many excruciatingly long and expensive copyright court cases over the years.
The most famous tattoo-centred case revolved around Mike Tyson’s tribal face tattoo. In 2011, Warner Bros was sued by Victor Whitmill, the artist who created it, regarding copyright infringement in the movie Hangover II. Whitmill designed the tattoo particularly for Tyson and therefore alleged the work was copyrighted. Warner Bros. settled the claim for an undisclosed sum.