While the tattoo industry traditionally operated outside the parameters of normal society and its laws, the increased popularity in tattoos across all classes of society has witnessed a parallel interest in applying the rules and laws of society at large to this unique art form. It’s still rare for cases to go to court, most settle outside, but we can’t ignore the increased frequency at which tattoos and the law collide. Today we’re looking at five of our favourite tattoo law stories!
In April 2011, S. Victor Whitmill, the award-winning tattoo artist who created Mike Tyson’s distinctive facial tattoo design filed suit against Warner Brothers when a tattoo he had created for boxer Mike Tyson, was copied and depicted on actor Ed Helms’ face in the Warner Brothers’ movie “The Hangover Part II”. Whitmill asked that a federal judge halt the release of the blockbuster comedy sequel because it prominently featured the tattoo without permission. The request was denied but the judge allowed the copyright infringement lawsuit to continue. Warner Bros. acknowledged it might be liable for infringement and announced it would remove the tattoo from the December DVD release if a deal was not reached. It will come as no surprise that a settlement was reached that June, the terms of which remain undisclosed. We’re guessing Whitmill received a tidy little pay out!
Tattooed Upright Bass
Back in December 2010, Patricia Day, the lead singer and bass player with psychobilly band Horror Pops, filed suit against Barbie alleging that Mattel had created a doll, ’Hard Rock Barbie’, in her likeness for which she had not given authorisation. Day claimed that Barbie’s black hair done in 50′s pin-up fashion, her heavily applied black eye makeup, red lipstick, 50’s-style pencil skirts, coloured sleeve tattoos and tattooed upright bass were all based on Day’s own image. Particular emphasis was placed on what Day described as a ’distinctive instrumental extension of her personality, the giant tattooed upright bass.’ which she claimed had become a singularly distinctive hallmark of her public persona.” This one settled out of court too so Barbie never got to defend her love of the Meteors to the jury.
Back in May 2014 we broke the news that a US national guard soldier, staff Sgt. Adam C. Thorogood, was suing the Army over what he claimed was an ‘unconstitutional tattoo policy’. He claimed that his full sleeve tattoo wasn’t harmful but the US Army was using the body art as a reason not to allow him to join the special operations unit or be promoted to any other position. Army Regulation 670-1 went into effect in March 2014 and banned tattoos below the elbow and knee and visible tattoos on the neck. According to Thorogood’s lawyer, Robin May, the new regulations not only infringed upon his right to free speech, but violated a constitutional ban on retroactive laws that changes the status of actions that were committed before the law came into force. The suit was reportedly dismissed because he had no legal basis for suing the army given that he wasn’t harmed in anyway by the policy. As it turned out, Thorogood and all soldiers who had their tattoos before the regulation came into force were grandfathered in and were not subject to the regulation!
Aw, who can forget Kimberley Vlaminck, the Belgian teenager who insisted she fell asleep (!) after asking tattooist Rouslan Toumaniantz for just three small stars – then woke up to discover her face was covered with 56 of them. She blamed the Flemish-speaking tattooist for not being able to understand her French and English instructions. Amid a frenzy of media attention she then said she would sue Toumaniantz for the £9,000 she needed for laser surgery to have them removed. Kimberley later confessed she did not fall asleep (shock! horror!) and that she wanted all the stars. She admitted that she was “fully aware” of what was happening. She only concocted her web of lies when confronted by her furious father who wasn’t a fan of her new face art. Teenagers, eh?
Finally, one that actually came before a court! While we’ve previously speculated that forcing someone to undergo laser treatment to remove tattoos might represent a conflict with human rights law, this was not a concern felt in Russia! In 2009 a Russian court fined a man for having a swastika tattoo and ordered it removed. In ordering the removal, the Novgorod court cited a rarely applied law that prohibits the public display of Nazi symbols. The judge justified the decision by pointing out in the verdict that the tattoo was on the defendant’s right hand and therefore was “visible to people around him.” The fine of 1,000 rubles was equal to about £20.
Do you know of any bizarre instances of tattoos and the law colliding?