The Law of Tattoos

Well Slaw hasn’t had a discussion about piercings or personalized skin art. Because – you might say – what does this have to do with law or legal information.

Well given that these things are manifestations of some sort of creativity, it isn’t surprising that there might be IP implications.

Yes – there is law, and the leading expert is an Ottawa native ((Harkins is legal counsel at Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione, a Chicago intellectual property law firm. He is the son of Zoe and John Harkins of Ottawa.)) whose article “Tattoos and Copyright Infringement: Celebrities, Marketers and Businesses Beware of the Ink.” has just won a 2007 Burton Award for Legal Writing, given in association with the U.S. Library of Congress and the Law Library of Congress.

The Canadian law is scant, largely turning on how useful these sorts of decorations can be in the identification of suspects. There is a research archive but penetrating deeper would be too painful.

And Oklahoma was the last state to scrap its provisions making the practice an offence. Not that prosecutions were much of a priority:

Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris said that it’s up to the Tulsa Police Department to make arrests for the misdemeanor. “Until that law gets changed, I’m there to enforce the law,” Mr. Harris said. But he considers violation of the tattooing law a “low priority” compared with the large load of homicide cases his office is facing.


  1. Jordan Hatcher has made a fascinating presentation on the topic in September at the GikII conference in London. The powerpoint presentation which contains fantastic pictures of tattoos can be viewed here.
    His presentation has actually been boingboinged.
    You can find extract of his presentation on his blog.