Resource of the Month: Tattoo Law

By Jonathan Watson

When it comes to tattoos, what do you usually think of?


  • The creativity and the artistic statement being made…

  • The person that is being commemorated in the design…

  • The potential for a lawsuit…


Wait, a lawsuit? How could a centuries-old visual art form be a topic for litigation? Do you remember when Ed Helms’ character had a facial tattoo that resembled Mike Tyson’s in the film “The Hangover, Part II”? In 2011, tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill sued Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.—arguing that that the studio should have obtained permission from him first. Warner Bros. counter-argued that the tattoo design was fair use. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount later that year.



In 2016, Matthew Siegler and his Solid Oak Sketches LLC sued Take-Two Interactive over copyrighted tattoos depicted on LeBron James and other players in the video game “NBA 2K.” As of August 2017, the case is still ongoing. Take-Two Interactive recently filed a motion for summary judgment “[claiming] that the tattoos that appear in the game are protected by copyright law’s doctrines of fair use and de minimis use.”



Safe Body Art Act is a chapter of California’s Health & Safety Code which “is intended to protect both the practitioner and the client from the transmission of infectious diseases through minimum statewide standards…” In reference to the Safe Body Art Act, Solano County has created a page designed for tattooing, body piercing and permanent cosmetics. Many other counties have set up similar pages designed to address the act and how it intertwines with their local business regulations.



There is also the issue of who exactly may be tattooed. According to California Penal Code §653, it is a misdemeanor to tattoo (or offer to tattoo) a person under the age of 18. There is a similar code for inmates, as 15 CCR §3063 not only prohibits tattooing but also their removal. For tattoo removal in general, according to the Medical Board of California, only physicians, registered nurses (must be supervised by a doctor), and physician assistants (must be supervised by a doctor) are permitted to perform it via laser procedures. The laser removal process can be delicate, and there are certain instances in which an individual has filed a lawsuit due to a botched procedure.


If you happen to stop by a Solano County Library branch this month, check out their displays of books, movies and music related to tattoos. If you visit Solano County Law Library, you can access cases and other law-related resources pertaining to tattoo law in our legal databases. For instance, you might want to explore other aspects of tattoo law—such as if owners can perform body art on a pet. Be sure to also visit Solano County Law Library on Facebook and Twitter.


Any materials shared by Solano County Law Library is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Please contact a lawyer for advice on specific legal issues.

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