Photographer sues tattoo artist for U$150k for copyright infringement

In the world of photography, copyright infringement lawsuits come up relatively frequently, but it’s not every day that the dispute involves the reproduction of a photograph in the form of a tattoo. 

Los Angeles-based photographer Jeff Sedlik has filed a lawsuit against renowned tattoo artist Katherine Von Drachenberg, more popularly known as Kat von D.

The lawsuit claims that Von Drachenberg infringed on Sedlik’s copyright by using his photograph of famous jazz musician Miles Davis as a reference for creating tattoo for a client back in March 2017.

Sedlik’s portrait of Davis was captured in 1989 at the musician’s beach house in Malibu, California. Sedlik has previously sold the portrait with a non-exclusive license to reproduce, distribute, and display the image. It has also been published in a number of magazines across the globe, including for a cover story for JAZZIZ, in 1989, and LIFE magazine..

Of all of Sedlik’s work, the portrait of Miles Davis is the only piece available for sale on his Saatchi Art account. The listing is accompanied by a backstory of how the final image came to be.

“I made this portrait of Miles at his beach house in Malibu, California, in 1989. I prepared for this portrait session over a period of years, working through hundreds of concepts, creating dozens of sketches. Miles selected a number of my sketches, but this concept was his favorite. To make this photograph, I created a 20'x20' tent of black cloth on the patio behind his home. The image was made at noon, in bright sun, beneath a large sailcloth. Miles treated me with respect, and I photographed him on many occasions in his later years.”

Alongside the detailed backstory, Sedlik also clearly requests that the work not be copied or used without a license and similarly, that new artworks not be created “based on [his] photograph” without a license as well.

The tattoo artist in question, Von Drachenberg, rose to fame between 2007 and 2011 as she and her business, High Voltage Tattoo, were featured on the TLC reality TV series LA INK during that period. As a result of the exposure, her Instagram account went on to attract an online following of more than seven million Instagram users. 

Material to the particulars of this case is the fact that Von Drachenberg has shared images of the Mile Davis tattoo several times to her large Instagram audience, as well as on her Facebook page. The photo can also be spotted in a short video snippet posted on YouTube. 

According to an article published in Billboard, Sedlik is seeking US$150,000 in statutory damages per work that depicts the tattoo, including ‘derivative works’ like marketing and advertising materials. In addition, Sedlik is also seeking that Von Drachenberg, as well as High Voltage Tattoo, remove any and all content referencing his photo of Davis from all print, social media, and web platforms. 

In the same article, Billboard revealed that Sedlik also wants to recoup any profits that Van Drachenburg and her business made from using his image, in addition to recouping any losses that he has had a result of that use. Sedlik will also be seeking legal costs.

You can read the details of the lawsuit in full here.

On Sedlik's website he states: "Due to rampant copyright infringement from my web site, my portfolios are now accessible only to clients...". 


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