Celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D emerged victorious on Friday after a jury determined that she did not infringe on the copyright of photographer Jeffrey Sedlik when she used his 1989 portrait of jazz artist Miles Davis as the inspiration for a tattoo on a friend’s arm.
The Los Angeles jury deliberated for just over two hours, concluding that the tattoo and related elements, including a drawing and social media posts by Von D, did not warrant payment for permission.
Expressing relief outside the courtroom, Kat Von D, known for her roles in reality shows like “Miami Ink” and “LA Ink,” stated, “I’m obviously very happy for this to be over. It’s been two years of a nightmare worrying about this, not just for myself but for my fellow tattoo artists.”
The jury’s decision extended to Von D’s drawing based on the portrait and her social media posts, all falling within the legal doctrine of fair use of copyrighted work. Von D’s attorney, Allen B. Grodsky, expressed satisfaction with the verdict, emphasizing, “The jury recognized that this was just ridiculous.”
Sedlik’s attorney, Robert Edward Allen, announced plans to appeal, contending that the images, featuring a close-up of Davis making a “shh” gesture, were substantially similar. He argued that the case was about copying protected works and not an attack on the tattoo industry.
During the three-day trial, Von D maintained that she never licenses the images she recreates, considering her work a form of “fan art” and emphasizing that she made no profit from it. Her attorney underscored this lack of commercial intent as essential to the fair use classification.
Allen countered in his closing arguments, suggesting that Von D’s social media posts served as promotion and a form of monetization. If the jury had ruled in Sedlik’s favor, potential damages could have ranged from a few hundred dollars to $150,000.
Despite the legal victory, Von D expressed reservations about returning to work, stating, “I think I don’t want to ever tattoo again. My heart has been crushed through this in different ways.”