MARISA KAKOULAS IS CAMPAIGNING TO ELEVATE TATTOOS to the ranks of what can be copyrighted. While she is a lawyer, which in the tattoo community is not a good thing to be, she has rallied its members to her side by articulating a vision of how copyright law could be applied to body art. Her allies include Daniel DiMattia, whose work Kakoulas particularly admires; at his Liège, Belgium, studio, he specializes in what are called Black Style tattoos and he makes designs that are influenced by modern geometric forms and by Asian-Pacific and tribal African art.
If Kakoulas succeeds, body artists and those they tattoo could be fined up to $100,000 for knowingly reproducing a copyrighted tattoo. The only tattoo to ever become a registered trademark in the United States is a multicolored inking of avian wings and reptilian scales (complete with ®)for a New Orleans piercing and tattoo parlor called Rings of Desire. The year before, though, in 2001, a federal trial judge in Illinois named Charles P. Kocoras ruled that two marketers of temporary tattoosstick-onshad violated an artist's copyrights on his depictions of an American flag and of the Virgin Mary by reproducing the artist's exact designs. Images that are copyrighted can't be reproduced without the artist's permission, even when the reproduction is temporary. But if images can be copyrighted as stick-ons, Kakoulas reasoned, they should also be copyrightable as permanent tattoos.