Is It Infringement To Get Your Favorite Sports Team Logo Tattooed On Your Body?

from the maybe... dept

Interesting timing. Just after we were discussing the copyright implications of tattoos, jprlk points us to a recent issue of The Straight Dope, in which Cecil Adams takes on the question of the legality of tattooing your favorite sports team logo on your body somewhere. He goes over both the trademark side and the copyright side. There’s no trademark issue (in most cases) because there’s no “use in commerce,” which is required for a trademark infringement situation. There may be a copyright issue, but Adams suggests teams would be crazy to go down that route so it’s probably not an issue:

Copyright violation is an easier case to make. (Some contend a fan tattoo would constitute fair use, but I have my doubts.) The main thing is, what team or league would bother? They’d look like bullies, your pockets probably aren’t that deep, and it’s not like a judge is going to order you to have the tattoo lasered off. Then again, we’re talking about professional sports, where conventional logic is out the window.

He’s right about that last comment. After all, just look at the Washington Redskins, who have sued fans and threatened bloggers. While he hasn’t done it yet, it would not surprise me to see Dan Snyder eventually go so far as to sue a fan for having a Redskins tattoo without paying him for the privilege of promoting the team.

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Comments on “Is It Infringement To Get Your Favorite Sports Team Logo Tattooed On Your Body?”

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Comboman (profile) says:

Go after tattoo artists, not fans

The team owners would be a lot more likely to go after the tattoo artists than the fans for PR reasons (suing fans looks bad), legal reasons (fewer people to sue) and financial reasons (tattoo businesses have deeper pockets than individual fans). They could even offer tattoo artists an option to avoid getting sued by purchasing a license to reproduce the logos (just like a cap or t-shirt manufacturer would) and create a whole new revenue stream. I believe a similar setup currently exists for cake decorators who want to produce cakes in the likeness of copyrighted characters (Disney, etc) despite the fact that a cake is not exactly a “fixed medium”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Go after tattoo artists, not fans

I think Comboman’s analysis is right, except up until the cake part. The tattoo shop is the infringer, and is the logical defendant in an infringement suit. Plus, like the cake decorator, the creator of the ‘work’ is a commercial actor who could get a license.

Although I disagree that a cake is “not exactly” a “fixed medium” — [which is required by copyright law]. Your skin isn’t exactly a fixed medium either. Dust to dust. Even books rot. And digital media, faster. So, whether the tat is on your tart or your heart, it is still fixed, and probably infringing. (i.e., The unlicensed cake is a lie!)

Now, is suing cake artists and tattoo parlours a good idea? No. But that has never stop rights owners before, so why start now?

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

I've got the Love & Rockets logo tattooed on me

But I have yet to hear from Daniel Ash, etc. as to the illegality of said tattoo. Not only that, but I haven’t heard from the creators of the Love & Rockets comic book, who took the band to court over the name. I even brought in the album cover as a reference for the tattooist.

(Note to the RIAA: at various points, L&R was signed to Arista and Def American. Alert your legal teams immediately. Unlicensed logo usage is like Somali piracy… or something.)

Ryan Diederich says:


This would be one of the few cases that is a little unclear to me.

I would say it WOULD be a copyright violation, if I saw a person with GIANTS tattooed on their forehead, I would assume they were connected with the team, won a contest, are being paid (remember that woman who auctioned off her pregnant belly for ad space?).

But, as was said, this wouldnt be a case that should be pursued. It would be terrible PR, would probably result in little capital gains, and would be a lot of work.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

I never underestimate what a lawyer will recommend suing for, nor do I underestimate the common sense of business executives. There are too many lawyers who recommend suing if there is any basis of a lawsuit and too many corporate boards and execs who do anything their lawyers recommend.

On the flip side, I would not be surprised to see someone who gets an infection while having a team logo tattoo done naming the team as a party in the resulting lawsuit. Lawyers like to name anyone with deep pockets as a co-defendant.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

Trademark Case

I am not so sure that Trademark could be entirely ruled out. The person wearing the tattoo would not be at risk under trademark law, but what about the person applying the Tattoo?

If the artist is being paid for the work wouldn’t that possibly be defined as being used for commercial purposes or gain?

Isn’t there also cases where Pro Players have been forced to either cover their art, or remove it? I think those cases where the Artist actually suing though. There are definately cases where the Pro Players refuse to allow the Artist to display pictures of the tattoos in their Shops. I know a number of artists that have done tattoos on “famous” people, but cannot display the pictures in public for fear of lawsuits.
When it comes to Tattoos, IP laws are so vague because there really aren’t too many cases that have went to court to set the presidences.

I wear numerous Tattoos of Angels and Demons which were highly inspired by early religous artwork and even the bible it’s self, would the church really come after me for such artwork? Would I go after the artist if he put my work on someone else? I have asked that he not do that, but I trust in him being a friend and don’t have papers signed requiring it.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

Re: Re: Trademark Case

I don’t always agree with little mikee, and rarely ever respect his opinion, but sometimes his articles don’t deserve the disrespect of refering to him as little mikee either.

This one happens to be in that latter category, he wasn’t trying to tell anyone that they need to change how they do business to his way, he wasn’t crying about something not being made free to him, and he wasn’t really putting down any real industries in this one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Trademark Case

Trademark infringement requires “use in commerce to distinguish goods and services.” If it is a famous person, that is a publicity rights issue, and by far the vaguest area of IP law.

As to your religious tattoos, you’re probably ok on the copyright front because (a) the likely basis work will be public domain, if it was ever protected in the first place; and (b) at least as long as you’re not commercially, publicly displaying your tattoo, then the infringement was the artist, not you, since he did the fixation. Even though you’re the canvas.

On the trademark front, the Church would have to claim it was using that early religious artwork to distinguish its goods and services in commerce. I’d like to see the Vatican own up to that.

Finally, if you don’t want your tattoo artist to put your tattoo on someone else, you make part of the agreement be that the copyright in the tattoo transfers to YOU as part of the deal. Generally, a good idea, lest your tattoo artist go around suing everyone who photographs you with your shirt off.

If this were legal advice, it would be followed by an unreasonably large bill.

p.s.: the word is “precedents”

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

Re: Re: Trademark Case

My spelling has always sucked, and correcting my spelling is about as much a waste of time for you as it is for me… Not saying it’s bad and I do honestly try :))

Anyway, my references to my tattoos was purely an example, the artwork for my tattoos was commissioned seperate from the tattoo artist, and was done on a work for hire contract. The Artist did “embellish” on the artwork somewhat to make it work on the canvas he was working with, but overall the pieces are close enough that he would be the one in violation of any copyrights.

I also highly doubt that my work would be so popular that others would want it anyway, especially considering that I am less than 50% complete and still close to 300 hours under the needles anyway.

In the tattoo realm, I tend to believe that the Artists are gennerally honest people, and respect your requests overall. My experience is that Tattoo Artists overall do an EXCELLENT job at policing themselves. Bad or Dishonest Artists don’t last long in the market place, and more often than not it’s the Artists that run them out long before too many innocent people get harmed.

Transbot9 (user link) says:

CM Punk

Pro Wrestler CM Punk has tattoos of the Pepsi logo and the Cobra logo (from GI Joe, owned by Hasbro), both trademarked by different companies. As such, they don’t show up on the toys of him (which are made by Mattel).

A legal battle with either Pepsi or Hasbro verses CM Punk/WWE would get interesting. WWE would probably claim thier wrester was giving them free advertisment.

Not that I think this is something that should be brought to court.

Anonymous Coward says:

“There’s no trademark issue (in most cases) because there’s no “use in commerce,” which is required for a trademark infringement situation.”

I don’t think that’s right. In most cases, the sale of the tattoo and/or the tattoo artist’s services would count as a “use in commerce.” Probably no likelihood of confusion, though.

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