Nine jurors took less than three hours to unanimously decide the tattoo wasn’t “substantially similar” enough to the reference photo she used. The photo was a copyrighted portrait of jazz legend Miles Davis that was taken in 1989.
“I knew that if we didn’t fight this that I just think it would have done so much harm to an industry that has struggled for so long,” Von D told reporters after the verdict.
Plaintiff Jeffrey Sedlik had asked the jurors to award him $42,750 in actual damages and up to $150,000 in statutory damages for willful infringement. Sedlik’s lawyer said his side planned to appeal.
“I’m obviously excited for this to be over. This has been two years of a nightmare, not just for me, but for my fellow tattooers,” Von D said. She said the family of Miles Davis also had reached out to her to say they didn’t support the lawsuit.
In closing arguments Friday, Sedlik’s lawyer Robert Allen said his client spent three years planning the photograph and went as far as building “a studio on the beach” because he was a perfectionist. “Every single decision that was made was precise. Nothing was left to chance,” he said, adding that the case was about fairness and compensating artists for their work.
“This is not going to have any effect on the tattoo industry. Nobody with a tattoo has to worry that the tattoo police is going to come after them,” said Allen. “That’s not what this case is about. his case is about permission and respecting art.”
But Von D’s lawyer Allen Grodsky disagreed, saying the lawsuit should not have been filed. “This case is very important to my client,” Grodsky said in his closing. “It’s important to the tattoo industry, and it’s important to people who want to get tattoos.” He said Von D never sought licenses for the reference photos she used and it was never a problem.
“We’re here because my client, Kat Von D, would not bow down to Mr. Sedlik. She wouldn’t tell him how wise he was and how she appreciated his advice. She acted on behalf of tattoo artists everywhere and stood up to him,” he said.
Von D’s attorney said the artist inked the tattoo for her friend, Blake Farmer, free of charge and later posted it on social media for her fans to see her process and share in her personal life. He claimed Von D never sold it as a print, poster or t-shirt, and when she posted about it “a handful of times on her Instagram and Facebook accounts, she wasn’t promoting anything commercial.”
This is a developing story.