What is taboo in painting seems to be the norm in the tattoo scene: designs are constantly being stolen, copied and copied. That makes tattooists difficult to cope with – and the theft often starts with “inspiration” on Pinterest, Instagram and Co.
A follower showed the tattoo artist Be Lucchesi the screenshot that was supposed to put the tattoo artist in a state of shock and sadness for the next few days : The photo showed the Instagram account of a relatively well-known tattoo artist from the USA. He offered a number of “new” tattoo designs on his feed . Several black line drawings on a white background, curved bodies and hands, adorned with snake and flower motifs. But the designs weren’t his ideas – they were all Bes designs he’d stolen.
Motifs with which Be became known. A style that she helped establish, that is her unique selling point, that defines her value. She sells her designs as unique pieces – no two people should wear the same Be Lucchesi tattoo, that’s her promise. And now she can’t hold it – because a tattoo artist from the USA steals her tattoos . Just because. Without asking, without purchasing a license, without even writing a message.
“In the past there have been a few smaller tattoo artists who stole my designs – but this case was much bigger and hit me emotionally hard, ” Be said. The lesser-known artists apologized profusely after a confrontation and deleted their posts, but in this case it was different. The copying tattoo artist worked for a well-known studio in the US that has over 60,000 followers on Instagram – Be had maybe a quarter of that at the time. When Be confronted him and the studio, the studio insisted on innocence and promised to fire the tattooist – which has not happened to this day.
Be was torn after the incident. Should she stop posting her designs on Instagram so no one could steal them? But Bes customers all come via Instagram – if she no longer posts her designs there, she could leave her tattooing career the same. Many artists feel like Be.
Be Lucchesi’s experience is not an isolated one
Tattoo artists around the world struggle with others stealing their designs – even (if not especially) super famous tattoo artists struggle with it.
Silvano Fiato from Italy, for example. The tattoo artist is now a small celebrity – 170 thousand people follow him on Instagram, according to his own statements, he started a trend with his style. He is happy when other tattoo artists are inspired by his designs – but if they are copied one-to-one, he doesn’t think that’s right. “My tattoos are unique works for my customers, specially created by me, based on their stories and their emotions . If that is copied and then it’s bad – that’s just not good,” says Silvano.
Some tattoo artists would even take photos of Silvano’s tattoos and pass them off as their own. Silvano has even been to international tattoo competitions where people competed against him with copies of his own designs . For him, these tattooists are not artists, because there are no different rules for them than for designers or painters, explains Silvano.
“Tattooists are not necessarily creative people” , is how tattooist Be tries to explain the phenomenon. For many, engraving as a craft is the top priority – then it is often not so important to them where the requested design comes from, says Be. That is why it often happens that designs are stolen – because there are only “craftsmen” among tattoo artists.
Some are less bothered by a stolen tattoo
But not all tattooists have a problem with their designs being stolen. For tattoo artist Anrijs Straume from England, it’s now just something he accepts . For him, these are not “stolen” designs ; he sees his work more as a reference for other artists – just as he would use paintings by Picasso or Da Vinci as references. He thinks that a tattoo is unique every time and can never be a direct copy because it will never look completely the same.
Nevertheless, he understands how it must feel for other artists. But he sees copying tattoos as inevitable : “It will drive you crazy if you worry too much about it,” says Anrijs. “I would never encourage anyone to steal a design, but it is what it is and it just keeps going.”
Can a stolen tattoo be prosecuted?
As it should be legal in stolen tattoo designs behave, few know tattooist * inside. Many do not want legal advice (like Be) or cannot find competent lawyers (like Silvano). Lawyer Jens Brelle of the law firm “Art Lawyer” explains Noizz that robbed tattoo * inside legally on the safe side stand . According to copyright and constitutional law, tattooing meets all the requirements of an art – and can therefore also be prosecuted (Section 106 (1) UrhG). If convicted, this can mean a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine – although this is rather unusual in individual cases. Financial compensation in the amount of the tattoo price is more likely there, and possibly compensation for pain and suffering.
Even if they share a photo of the motif on Instagram, tattooists still have the copyright to their work, says Gunnar Berndorff, specialist lawyer for copyright and media law. Reposting is still unproblematic , but as soon as someone else duplicates a stolen design (that is, has it printed on a poster or tattooed on someone else), then that is a clear breach of copyright law . All artists who post on Instagram have this copyright, because their tattoo is a drawing that they have painted themselves and, like any other painting or comic, it is protected by copyright, says Berndorff.
Tattoo artists do not have to register a copyright beforehand – a copyright already applies when a work reaches a certain creative level and is an expression of artistic personality – which is the case with most tattooists with their own designs. When it comes to stabbing common designs such as a Venus symbol, a cross or “I love Mom” on the upper arm, then copyright no longer applies.
Legally, there is only one loophole if you stab a stolen design yourself . Then it is reproduction for personal use that is permitted as an exception.
The solution to the problem starts with Pinterest – and the tattoo artists themselves
In Bes case, it was evident that the tattoo artist was stealing her designs in order to sell them himself. But often it is not the tattoo artist who actively steals, but the clientele who come to the tattoo studio with a stolen design . The design mostly comes from Pinterest , where many look for “inspiration” for their tattoo. On Pinterest, however, the gap between art and artist is large. Designs are repeated thousands of times on users’ pinboards, making the original artist anonymous . His / her art becomes unauthorized public property, used by hundreds of people.
But especially when a customer comes into the tattoo studio with a design that was obviously designed by someone else, then tattooists have an obligation to refuse to tattoo the stolen design, says Be Lucchesi. She would like her colleagues to show more solidarity and to educate customers who come with stolen designs. Silvano also thinks that it would be the least he would expect from a professional tattoo artist . But both know: Not everyone has this attitude. Some are ignorant and tattoo without ethics. But if the problem of stolen tattoo designs is ever to be resolved, it will only be possible if the attitude of some tattooists themselves changes.