Photographer suing tattoo artist Kat Von D over copyright infringement

Celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D is the subject of a first-of-a-kind lawsuit over artistic interpretation and copyright infringement.

In 2017, Von D, whose legal name is Katherine Von Drachenberg, tattooed a likeness of an iconic photograph of jazz great Miles Davis onto a person.

Von D did not get paid for the tattoo but did post her work on social media.

In 2021, the man who took the photograph, Jeffrey Sedlik, filed suit against Von D for copyright infringement. 

"Essentially he's saying that the tattoo is substantially similar to his photograph of Miles Davis and therefore Kat Von D has committed copyright infringement," said Aaron Moss, a copyright attorney in California.

Von D has insisted that her version of the photograph is transformative of the original image.

A federal judge in California recently decided that the case can go to trial. 

The potential ramifications of the case are enormous for tattoo artists across the U.S.

"It's Miles Davis with his finger to his mouth and admittedly, even Kat Von D used the photograph as a reference photograph, but ultimately put her own spin on it and the question for the jury would be, did she do enough to change it?" said Kristelia Garcia, who teaches intellectual property, copyright and patent law at the University of Colorado.

"A finding of infringement would effectively make public display of the tattooed person’s arm an act of infringement," Amelia Brankov, a copyright lawyer not involved in the case, told Artnet News in June. "This could give pause to tattoo artists who are asked to ink third-party imagery on their clients."