US jury rules tattoo artist didn’t violate photographer’s copyright on Miles Davis snap

Toattooist Kat Von D had every right to replicate snapper Jeffrey Sedlik's 1989 portrait of Miles Davis without paying a royalty on the image.

Toattooist Kat Von D had every right to replicate snapper Jeffrey Sedlik's 1989 portrait of Miles Davis without paying a royalty on the image. Photo: US court evidence

A jury has found US 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 on Friday before deciding that the tattoo by Von D 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

Kat Don D described the trial as “a two-year nightmare’. Photo: AP

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.

The jury also found the tattoo, drawing and posts 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 lawyer Allen B. Grodsky said after the verdict. “The jury recognised that this was just ridiculous.”

Sedlik’s lawyer Robert Edward Allen said they plan to appeal.

‘No one’s art is safe’

He said it the images, which both feature 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 on 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.”

Allen emphasised the meticulous work Sedlik did to set up the shoot, to create the lighting and mood, and to put Davis in the pose that would make for an iconic photo that was first published on the cover of JAZZIZ magazine in 1989. Sedlik registered the copyright in 1994.

Von D said during the three-day trial that she never licenses the images she recreates, and she considers work like the Davis tattoo a form of “fan art.”

“I made zero money off it,” she testified. “I’m not mass-producing anything. I think there is a big difference.”

Von D was among the stars of the reality series Miami Ink and was the featured artist on its spinoff LA Ink.


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