The Mag Gallery The Hood
User Pass Stay logged in (?)
The Mag
Inside the Mag
Special Feature
Tattoo Culture
Artist Spotlight
Product Reviews
Tattoo Symbolism
Tattoos 101
Ask Toodles
Editorial Page
tribal pattern


User's Guide
Submit Product for Review
Editorial Policy

Editorial Page > View Editorials

Tattoos and Copyright

Amina Munster Defends her Right to Protect her Tattoos.

by Amina

March 31, 2006

Flash art is a very big commodity of the tattooing industry. I wear a few pieces of flash art on my body. One tattoo in particular is an Eric Maaske panther that was tattooed by his former apprentice, Chummy Alexanian, shortly before Maaske's death in August 2004. This particular tattoo means a lot to me, though I am sure that there are many more people in the world who posses the same exact tattoo. After all, it was offered as flash on a wall in a hugely popular tattoo shop.

On September 30, 2004 Tim Kern at Last Rites in New York City completed my custom "Dead Men Tell No Tales" chest piece. Unbeknownst to me a little under a year later on September 20, 2005 I would learn that my custom piece had already been plagiarized by Brandon Swartz, a tattoo artist at Inflictions, CA.

I am certainly not trying to infer that I was the first person to wear a skull, daggers, blood or banners. But the tattoo was arranged and designed specifically for me at my request and expense. I did not offer this tattoo as flash; I simply wore the tattoo and was photographed wearing it. The plagiarism was only brought to my attention after Brandon Swartz himself posted a photo of the duplication on in attempts to increase his notability and show off 'his' work.

When I first learned of the plagiarism I was very upset with Brandon Swartz and the Inflictions shop. My upset lied solely in respect and business ethics, an area in which both the tattooist and patron were lacking.

From what I understand the duplication was produced from an image taken off of, the shop and portfolio website of Tim Kern and Last Rites. Tim Kern was in full right to post this image and did so with the copyright and symbol of the shop included on the photo. If the duplication were created from this photo it would have been clear to the tattoo artist that the design had previously been tattooed on flesh and was held under a copyright from Obviously the artist over looked the blatant copyright notice. I found it exceeding odd that the boasted this on their website: "Copyright © 2002 Designed by All artwork, literature, and photography is property of Inflictions and its staff and may not be used for any reason without the explicit written permission of its respective Owner."

I am unsure what meaning my stolen tattoo could have to someone else; it is possible that he just liked the design or the slogan. The tattoo has multiple symbolisms for me which is why I chose to place it on such a prominent part of my body. It would be totally understandable if this person had requested that my tattoo be used as reference for his own personalized drawing. I believe that there is very little that can be considered truly original in the 21st Century, every sound has been heard, every object has been drawn but one thing that contributes directly to originality and thus makes it copyrightable is the arrangement and possibly medium used.

Previously I had received hundreds of emails that all consisted of similar dialect. Here is a sample, received days before the plagiarism had become known to me:

"Amina, Hi, I saw you on Inked the other night and I LOVE the tattoo on your chest (skull) I was wondering if you might have a clear picture of it you might be willing to part with? I have only been able to find bits and pieces of it, and a price of what it cost to have it done, time etc... I absolutely have to have it, Please let me know. Thanks So Much, Robert, San Bernardino, Ca. 909-XXX-XXXX"

I personally do not think that the person who wrote the above email had any intention of stealing from me or infringing upon my rights, it seems that he simply never considered that duplication of a custom tattoo could be considered as plagiarism.

On September 27, 2005 I sent request for copyright registration to Library of Congress. I requested that both the tattoo itself and original drawing be granted a copyright. I received the Certificates of Copyright on March 6th, 2006. The recorded date of registration by the Copyright Office is dated October 4th, 2005.

I have no interest in further contacting Brandon Swartz. I sincerely hope that the outing of his previous plagiarism would make him think twice if he were approached with a similar request. Registering the tattoo with the US Copyright Office has sparked interest and debate, which in turn may educate persons who are unaware about the law of copyrighted works, even in regards to possessions as controversial as skin art.

I will be attending the Hell City Tattoo Festival in May of 2006 where Tim Kern will be tattooing a cute little copyright symbol on the bottom right side of my tattoo. I am doing this intentionally to insure that any preceding photos will clearly identify the tattoo as a copyrighted piece of art.

Lastly there are a few misconceptions regarding the tattoo copyright that I think should be addressed:

The tattoo was a "work for hire" Tim Kern would be considered my employee. In cases of "work for hire" the employer not the employee would hold the copyright. Tim Kern and I have also agreed upon this.

I am NOT required to obtain the registration or give copyright notice as stated at Obtaining a registered copyright will allow me to assert statuary damages without proving actual loss.

Amina Munster is a Suicide Girl and prolific tattooed model for print and Web.

Article Comments

View 6 comments

Latest Editorials

View all archived articles