Kat Von Ds Miles Davis Tattoo Draws Copyright Infringement Suit

Claudia Rosenbaum | February 10, 2021

A Los Angeles photographer claims he is the sole and exclusive owner of the image, which Von D tattooed for a customer and posted to her Instagram account in March 2017.
A Los Angeles photographer is suing celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D over a Miles Davis tattoo she drew for a customer and posted to Instagram, according to a 31-page complaint filed Sunday (Feb. 7) in California federal court.

In the filing, photographer Jeffrey Sedlik claims Von D's tattoo constitutes copyright infringement of his image and alleges he is the sole and exclusive owner of the copyright of an iconic portrait of Davis, which he created in 1989 and first published in a cover story in JAZZIZ magazine around Aug. 1989. Sedlik says he independently created the image, and has offered and sold non-exclusive copyright licenses to others to reproduce, distribute and display that image since its creation.

Sedlik further claims that Von D, who owns High Voltage Tattoo in Los Angeles, did not request or receive a license to reproduce his work. Von D posted a picture that showed her copying Sedlik’s picture and tattooing it onto a man’s shoulder on Mar. 18, 2017 on her personal Instagram account, where she has over 7 million followers.

Von D captioned the post, "Can’t believe this is the first time I’ve gotten to tattoo a portrait of #MilesDavis! [thank you, Blake for letting me tattoo you!]." Von D also posted a video of the session on You Tube.

"The caption also 'tags' defendant High Voltage Tattoo with its Instagram username @highvoltageat for the purpose of promoting and soliciting sales of products and services offered by High Voltage Tattoo," the complaint reads, noting that the tattoo shop currently boasts nearly 1 million followers on the social media platform.

Sedlik is asking that the court order the defendants to remove content referencing the image from all print, web and social media platforms controlled by Von D and/or High Voltage Tattoo, while also enjoining them from any further use of the image. He is additionally requesting statutory damages of $150,000 per work depicting the tattoo, including "derivative works" such as advertising, marketing and promotional materials; profits the defendants made from their use of the image and losses incurred by Sedlik from that use; "any other monetary advantage gained" by the defendants in an amount to be determined at trial; all other damages available under copyright law; attorneys' fees and costs of the suit; and pre- and post-judgment interest.

In a lengthy statement to Billboard, Sedlik said the following: "Plaintiff Jeffrey Sedlik reached out to Kat Von D 'artist to artist' (through her representatives) seeking an amicable resolution of the matter prior to filing suit, but Ms. Von Drachenberg chose to ignore Mr. Sedlik’s good faith effort to avoid litigation. As the holder of a valid copyright in the Iconic Miles Davis Portrait, Mr. Sedlik has the sole and exclusive right of reproduction, publication and the creation of derivative works.

"As an artist herself, Ms. Von Drachenberg is well aware that creators like Mr. Sedlik rely on revenue received for the use of their works of art to support themselves and their families. Regrettably, Ms. Von Drachenberg chose not to contact Mr. Sedlik prior to making the numerous unauthorized reproductions and derivative works of his Iconic Miles Davis Portrait as described in the complaint.

"Ms. Von Drachenberg not only used Mr. Sedlik’s photograph without permission or license, but took credit for Mr. Sedlik’s creation as her own, distributing photographs of her unlawful derivate work to millions of social media followers, and supplying those photographs to publishers for inclusion of promotional editorials about Ms. Von Drachenberg and her various commercial ventures."

"Ms. Von Drachenberg failed to respect the creative work of a fellow artist, and chose to monetize Mr. Sedlik’s iconic photograph for her personal financial gain, exploiting the value of Mr. Sedlik’s photograph to build her brand and to promote the sale of her products and services."

Von D has not responded to Billboard's request for comment.

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