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Tattoo Copying: What's the Big Deal?

Tattoo enthusiast, sharing my tips, tricks and opinions on the world of body art

Why should we care about tattoo copying?

Why should we care about tattoo copying?

Tattoo Copying

We're all familiar with the saying, ''imitation is the highest form of flattery'', but when it comes to something as personal and individual as a tattoo, I could not disagree with that sentiment more.

Unfortunately, though, as the popularity of body art grows tenfold, so too does the likelihood of a tattoo being copied or ripped off. And while some disillusioned people out there seem to genuinely believe that sporting the same ink as their idols (or internet strangers) is a huge compliment and a sure-fire way of gaining their attention or affection, others are simply ignorant of how unimaginative and disrespectful it is to copy an already existing tattoo.

While I am not a tattoo artist, as a writer, I can sympathise with how frustrating and disheartening it must be to have designs, which have taken countless hours to create, stolen and used by predominantly inexperienced and lazy ''artists'' whose only goal is to make a quick buck.

But of course, tattoo artists are not the only people affected by copied designs. The original client must then also deal with no longer having a unique piece of body art, which they more than likely worked with the original artist to create.

An example of a copied tattoo design

An example of a copied tattoo design

Tattoo Inspiration vs. Copying

To be clear, I'm not targeting those who take inspiration from a piece of art and turn it into their own thing. Being inspired by someone else's work is completely normal, whereas outright reproducing a piece of art and claiming it as your own idea is a whole different ball game that won't win you any points in the body art community.

For example; there may be some aspects of a certain design that you want to incorporate into your own piece somehow. There's nothing wrong with this - after all, we all get our ideas from somewhere and very rarely are our thoughts ever completely original. On the flip side, if your heart is set on getting an already-existing design tattooed, then the right thing to do is ask the original artist's permission and ensure they are okay with it before you proceed with your plans any further.

This doesn't just apply to tattoo artists, it applies to any piece of work you see on or offline and want to have a permanent image of on your body. Some artists and individuals will be flattered at the thought of having their work tattooed on someone for life and will quickly agree, but not everyone will feel the same way, which is why it is important to check fist.

Another example of a copied tattoo design

Another example of a copied tattoo design

Why Do People Get so Annoyed?

Clients who are unfortunate enough to have had their tattoos copied and reproduced typically feel a wave of different emotions - none of which are good! These might include: fury, frustration and even disgust. And while this might sound like an extreme reaction to some (particularly to those of you who are sporting copied designs right now), as a tattooed person myself, I couldn't imagine feeling any other way. Here's why:

As a client, you are not only paying your chosen artist for their time during the session, but you are also paying for the design itself. Depending on the complexity of the art and the sentimental value it has, this piece could have been in the works for years. So, for the result to be stolen and used by someone else is a huge insult. Not only that, but it feels like an invasion of privacy to have someone else walking around with skin that looks exactly like yours, down to the colour palette, placement and details.

Of course, copying tattoos also affects the artists who spend hours of their own time piecing together and bringing to life their original ideas - or that of their clients. It is not complimentary or flattering to have your livelihood stolen, it is flat out disrespectful.

How to Prevent It?

I'm so thankful that I have not gone through the situation of having any of my tattoos stolen (that I know of!) and it's something I hope I never have to deal with.

From my perspective, preventing tattoo theft lies, for the most part, at least, in the hands of tattoo artists. To clarify: any reputable and professional artist will refuse to recreate an already existing piece of work regardless of what payment is offered. However, that's not to say that clients have no responsibility and can't be held accountable for tattoo theft.

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Sadly, we will never be able to fully stop the uninventive from ripping off the work of others, but we can still limit the rate at which it occurs.

  • Educating those who are new to the world of tattoos. This includes Artists as well as clients.
  • Watermarking designs.
  • As much as you shouldn't have to, being selective about showing designs on social media is a good way to prevent any of your designs from being stolen.
Another example of a copied tattoo design

Another example of a copied tattoo design

How to Handle It?

If someone approaches you and asks for your blessing to copy your tattoo whether you be the artist or the original client, this is your chance to strongly advise them against what they are about to do.

Unfortunately for some people, this doesn't always convince them and they go ahead and get the design done anyway.

So now, one way or the other your design has been copied and you are left feeling angry, frustrated and sometimes like you want to get rid of your tattoo.

  • Remember that no matter what, your tattoo is the original. Though it is frustrating to have your design stolen, especially if it was a very meaningful and personal one, your art has not lost its meaning or beauty because of this.
  • Contact the person and explain how you are feeling and ask if they will alter their design (highly unlikely).
  • Remember that yours being the original, also usually means that it is the best. When you look at copied designs, it is a very common occurrence that they are of very poor quality.
  • In the end, there is nothing physical you can do to right the situation, it is something you will have to come to terms with eventually, but know that you have the support of the majority of the tattoo community.

Do the Right Thing

To conclude, tattoo copying is a big deal, and those who think otherwise are discourteous and thankfully have little backing in the tattoo community.

I hope this has provided a little bit of insight into the subject. If you or someone you know has had a tattoo design stolen then feel free to share your story in the comments section below and remember to take part in the polls.

Questions & Answers

Question: What harm comes from using a tattoo design you find online, from a person whom you will never meet?

Answer: I believe I have fully detailed the reasons why stealing a tattoo is not okay in my blog. Just because one person sees no issue with it doesn't mean everyone else should have to live with the possibility of having designs stolen. A lot of hard work goes into creating custom designs and having something you poured your heart and soul into ripped off is awful. There is no need for it. If you love a design that much, ask the artist if they are willing to let you use it but if they say no, that is something that should be respected.

© 2017 BunnyClaws


BunnyClaws (author) from Scotland on June 14, 2019:

Hi Clarence,

If your new tattoo is no longer making you happy due to the fact it's a copied piece - but you don't want to get a cover up - then there's a few things you could do.

If you want, you could return to your artist and ask for some addidtions/changes to be made. This way you can keep the feel of the tattoo you have, and the aspects of it that you love which might help you feel more like the tattoo has been customised for you and not plainly copied from someone else's design.

Failing that you could also attempt to reach out to the original artist and explain the situation to them - who knows they might grant their blessing and be totally okay with it.

Whatever you decide is down to you you.

Good Luck :)

Clarence on June 14, 2019:

Hello! So about a month ago I decided to second tattoo my first was of a simple from pop culture that I've enjoyed for awhile so there's no real way to mess that up but the second time I did end up taking something from the internet except I placed it on a different part of the body, made some tweaks such as thicker lines ,some exemptions and added another color but you can still really see the resemblance when placing them side by side and I feel like that's all I can see now.

I guess I'm just asking for advice as to what I should do, I really loved the idea of getting something like it at the time and I didn't even know I was doing anything wrong until earlier today, but now it's all I can really think about, I really love it and my artist did a good job on it too but it just feels wrong now, but I'd also hate to cover it up too. What should I do?

BunnyClaws (author) from Scotland on September 10, 2018:

Hi Jade,

Thank you for your honesty and input to the discussion, I have taken on board your feelings but ultimately, my feelings on the matter remain the same.

This is not a case of 'freaking out over nothing'. For those talented individuals who take the time to create their own designs, it's heartbreaking and frustrating to see their work being stolen and produced (usually at a lesser quality than the original I might add) by someone else.

Artists of any kind do not just whip up an excellent idea in the matter of a few seconds or minutes, it takes hours and sometimes days to bring their vision to life.

For instance, imagine you write a book which takes you years to complete and get published. You work tirelessly to get your work out there only to find that when you do, someone takes your idea and passes it off as their own and are profiting off of your work. How would that make you feel?

Thankfully when it comes to books, copywrite policies are strict but when it comes to art (especially tattoo artistry) there aren't any restrictions put in place and instead those of us in the tattoo community must rely on the honesty and integrity of each other.

With regards to the design you have copied; I totally understand seeing a design online and falling in love with it. We have all done it and the internet as wonderful as it is, is making it easier for tattoo copying to take place.

In the instance that you see a design that you feel you absolutely must have on your body, the right thing to do would be to:

A) Reach out to the artist and ask permission to use the design. Provided it is not intended as a tattoo, most artists will be happy for you to use it as long as you credit their work should you post images online.

B) If it is a tattoo design and you are within distance of the artist who created it, visit them and ask for a similar design to be created.

C) Take the design to a reputable artist and ask them to use it as a reference piece for the tattoo you want. They will then come up with an original piece inspired by the design you loved so much.

Any tattoo artist that's worth their salt will not outright copy a design. It shows a lack of creativity and talent which is certainly not something they should want to be known for.

Despite you mentioning that you had no knowledge that the Pinterest design you used belonged to someone else, the fact it was online in the first place shows that it was someone else's creation.

As a matter of common courtesy, tattoo designs should not be copied.

As mentioned in the article, many designs are personal, therefore by stealing that design a person is diminishing the importance of that tattoo. Each of my own designs I draw up myself which takes me hours due to changing placements of certain elements, adding and removing elements and generally seeing what works best. When I feel I can do no more, I take the piece to my artist and ask him to work on the rest and allow him to change the things he feels could do with improvement.

Of course I don't expect anyone to go through all this effort, but it does ensure the piece you get you're absolutely in love with that's entirely personal and therefore there is less room for regret.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that there are plenty of people who have been in your situation, especially when they were younger and less knowledgeable about tattoo etiquette. Fortunately, many have now come to realise that they should have gone about getting their tattoo in a different way. People grow and change and learn from their mistakes and I hope after reading this you can understand why those of us who share this opinion regarding tattoo copying feel so strongly on the matter.

Jade on September 08, 2018:

I totally copied somebody’s tattoo design but I got it off Pinterest and I had no idea it was somebody’s idea and no clue I wasn’t allowed to copy it, it was a simple idea, I just don’t really think it’s a huge deal because they take like hundreds of tattoo ideas and then tell everybody they can’t use it I mean it’s not my fault I took it but I definitely didn’t claim it as my idea. That’s not right but I just don’t see the point in freaking out of somebody copies your idea, especially if they have no idea they had rights or they created it.

Lanecia Smith from United States on July 05, 2017:

Great article BunnyClaws. Some people can't seem to understand how they may be offending someone by copying their tattoo.

Being unique is something that everyone should strive for, especially when getting tattoos. I have five, which are hidden and would feel a little weird if someone copied my tattoos. Tattoos are suppose to be special and some have powerful meanings behind them.

Tattoo copying is really popular today due to social media and the development of the internet. Before there was no way of copying a tattoo unless you saw it in a book or magazine.

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