investing in tattoos

Investing in Tattoos – A Bizarre Asset Class

Are Tattoos Assets?

Obviously tattoo parlors and tattoo artists make money by charging people to have their skin tattooed.  Other companies make money by selling tattoo parlors supplies like ink, alcohol wipes, chairs, and a variety of other things.  However, can you make money by controlling the right to the artwork on someone’s body?  What if that person appears in a movie or video game?  Are you owed royalties or licensing fees?  The answer is, maybe you are.

Court Cases Offer a Hint to the Potential of Tattoo Licensing Income

There are a couple prominent court cases that apply to tattoos being classified as art.  The first was a lawsuit brought Vic Whitmill against Warner Brothers Studios.  Vic’s company, Paradox-Studio of Dermagraphics applied its tribal tattoo to Mike Tyson’s face in 2003.  When he received the tattoo, Mike Tyson signed something stating that the artwork was the property of Paradox-Studio of Dermagraphics.  In 2009, Mike Tyson appeared in the Warner Brothers movie, The Hangover.  In 2011, Vic registered the artwork with the U.S. Copyright Office, and then immediately sued Warner Brothers studios for copyright infringement.  Warner Brothers settled out of court.  The second case was filed in 2012 by tattoo artist Chris Escobedo.  He sued video game company THQ Inc. over a lion tattoo that appears on UFC star Carlos Condit’s body in a video game.  THQ Inc. settled our of court.  The NFL is requiring any player who wants their tattoos to appear in the Madden NFL video games to get releases from the artist that designed and applied the tattoo.  Colin Kaepernick actually got these releases and gets to have his tattoos appear in the game.

How Could Someone Invest in Tattoos?

It has not been established for certain in the courts if tattoo artists are truly entitled to royalties.  So whether tattoos are truly an asset class has yet to be seen.  Smart celebrities will want to always get releases prior to having a tattoo applied.  However, people aren’t always thinking perfectly clearly when they get a tattoo and they might have had some alcohol at the time.  What about someone who was a nobody when they got their tattoo, and ends up becoming a movie, sports, or music star?  There is a good chance they would not the same level of professional advice to know they should get releases.

Anyone looking to invest in tattoos for the purpose of obtaining licensing revenue would be taking an enormous speculative risk.  They could approach artists that they know specialize in celebrity tattoos and offer to help them trademark their designs and offer to buy the rights.  Once they owned the rights, they could pursue movie companies, video game makers and others for licenses.  This business model is not unlike that of a patent troll.  You file a lot of lawsuits and see if any of them stick.  Anyone who invests in tattoos is likely to receive some major flak from celebrities, others in the tattoo business and society in general; maybe this will change over time if the practice becomes more accepted.