Celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D beats an infringement lawsuit over a Miles Davis tattoo she inked in 2017.
Kat Von D, celebrity tattoo artist and former cosmetics mogul, won a legal battle in federal court last week when a jury ruled that her tattoo reproducing a photo of jazz musician Miles Davis did not violate copyright law. The trial began in Los Angeles last week.
In 2017, Katherine von Drachenberg, better known as Kat Von D, posted a photo to her Instagram account of her inking a tattoo based on a photo of jazz legend Miles Davis on the arm of a friend or acquaintance named Blake. Von D is best known as the former star of the reality shows “LA Ink” and “Miami Ink,” and a celebrated tattoo artist.
“Can’t believe this is the first time I’ve gotten to tattoo a portrait of Miles Davis!” read Von D’s caption of the tattoo image. “Thank you, Blake, for letting me tattoo you!”
The tattoo was based on a photo taken in 1989 by the plaintiff, photographer Jeffrey Sedlik. The photo featured Davis staring straight at the camera with a finger against his lips, and most famously appeared on the cover of JAZZIZ magazine, a publication highlighting the world of jazz.
Sedlik launched his lawsuit in 2021, asserting that the tattoo constituted a copyright infringement of his photograph — but the jury ultimately saw things differently, ruling in Von D’s favor.
“This case should never have been brought,” said Kat Von D’s lawyer. “It took the jury two hours to come to the same conclusion that everybody should have come to from the start: that what happened here was not an infringement.”
Meanwhile, Sedlik’s lawyer says he and his client plan to appeal. “Obviously, we’re very disappointed. There are certain issues that never should have gone to the jury. The first, whether the tattoo and the photograph were substantially similar. Not only are they substantially similar, but they’re strikingly similar.”
But strikingly similar or not, a tattoo reproduction of a photo was considered to be fair use and did not violate Sedlik’s copyright, according to the Los Angeles jury.
“I made zero money off it,” Kat Von D testified, likening her work to fan art and explaining she never licenses the images she recreates. “I’m not mass-producing anything. I think there’s a big difference.”
Had the jury ruled in Sedlik’s favor, he would have been awarded anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $150,000.