“Do you guys mind if I steal the tattoo design…?”
David recently posted a comment asking if he could steal the design of my Triceratops tattoo, designed by Mike Bellamy of Red Rocket Tattoo. My response:
I’m glad you like my custom Triceratops tattoo; I’m very fond of it, as well. Thanks for asking if Mike Bellamy and I would mind if you copy it, but the answer is: PLEASE DON’T STEAL THIS TATTOO DESIGN.
I spent many hours deliberating over the elements of this tattoo, and researching photos and other images of dinosaur fossils, flowers, other tattoos, etc. Mike built upon my ideas and research to create this awesome, original, unique tattoo design. Obviously, this isn’t a piece of flash that i picked off the wall at the tattoo shop.
I imagine that your tattoo artist would also much rather create his or her own custom design than copy someone else’s hard work. The tattoo community is more interconnected than you might think, and word gets around if an artist is stealing others’ custom artwork.
When I was planning this tattoo, one of the most helpful resources I found was a multi-part essay, “Get the Perfect Tattoo” from Off The Map Tattoo (also available in PDF format). I highly recommend reading all the sections. An excerpt from the “The Perfect Tattoo Design” section:
Many people first learning about tattoos try to find other tattoos upon which to base their own design or idea. They may spend hours looking through tattoos hoping to find the perfect design when they should be looking at the quality of the artist’s work rather than the designs themselves. Copying other people’s tattoos is disrespectful to the wearer of the tattoo, and to the artist who drew it, provided it was a custom, one-of-a-kind piece to begin with. … To get the best tattoo, it’s worth finding a lot of reference material, and bringing the images and your ideas to the tattoo artist who will be doing the tattoo, for them to look at and then incorporate into their own style.
Marisa DiMattia (former copyright lawyer and he voice of Needled.com) sums it up nicely in an article about the legal issues of copying tattoos entitled, “A Stolen Tattoo Could Get You Sued“:
To avoid law suits and even a laser, get your own original tattoo. The most important reason to do so is not legal, it’s ethical. Many custom tattoos tell people’s personal stories and mark unique events and experiences. Why have another person’s life written on your skin? Get a work of art that is all about you and leave out the lawyers.
Having said that, I think it would be GREAT if you got a tattoo of a dinosaur skull with flowers and vines and stuff, even a Triceratops! As I’ve pointed out on the blog, mine is certainly not the only one out there. Don’t you want yours to be original and unique, too? Work with your artist to come up with something even better than mine, and we’ll compare dinosaur tattoos. I’d even be happy to help come up with ideas. When you get your own one-of-a-kind piece done, send me a photo, and I’ll post it on the blog (and to the Flickr group)!
Thanks in advance for doing the right thing,