Kat Von D Testifies at Miles Davis Tattoo Copyright Trial: ‘I Consider This Fan Art’ – What’s the Jury’s Verdict on Fair Use?

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Kat Von D, the renowned tattoo artist and former reality TV star from “Miami Ink” and “LA Ink,” took the witness stand in a California federal court to defend herself against a copyright infringement lawsuit. The case revolves around a Miles Davis tattoo she created based on a photograph taken by a professional photographer, Jeffrey Sedlik.

At the trial, Von D testified that she never obtained a license to use the photograph as a reference for the tattoo, as she considers the practice of doing so as “fan art.” She argued that she stopped charging for tattoos years ago and gifted the Miles Davis tattoo to her friend, Blake Farmer, free of charge. Von D emphasized that her work was a tribute to Davis, and she made no profit from it.

Sedlik, on the other hand, claims that Von D unlawfully reproduced his “iconic” 1989 photo of jazz legend Miles Davis. He argues that creating a tattoo based on his photograph and showcasing it on social media without permission constitutes copyright infringement.

The lawsuit raises questions regarding the boundaries of fair use and transformative work, particularly in the context of tattoo art. Von D’s argument centers on the idea that tattooing is a form of storytelling and personal expression, akin to fan art, rather than a commercial exploitation of an artist’s work.

The trial is expected to pivot around the interpretation of fair use doctrine, which allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission under specific circumstances such as transformative work, parody, critique, or news report. The case also brings attention to the challenges of applying traditional copyright laws to modern art forms like tattooing and social media.

As the trial continues, legal experts anticipate that the outcome of this case could have broader implications for the tattoo industry and the intersection of intellectual property rights and visual arts. The debate over fair use and transformative work in the context of tattoo art reflects the evolving nature of copyright law in the digital age and its impact on various creative industries.