Various entries have been posted here in the past (start at this Copyleft tattoo for some examples) about copied tattoos and the conflicts that rise from them… I haven’t found an old article yet talking about copyright in a Western conflict but I’m sure I will. In the meantime, here’s an article on tattoo “copyright” from the Elyria Chronicle‘s May 20, 1904 edition.
New Guinea Tribe Fought Because Its Design Was Copied
— Unwritten Copyright Law.
One special feature of many of the tribes inhabiting New Guinea is the unwritten law of copyright in the designs with which they tattoo their bodies, says a writer in Stray Stories.
Each tribe has its own particular system of ornamenting the body, and should a member of any other tribe imitate the pattern, it is regarded as quite a sufficient reason for a declaration of war between the two tribes.
A young warrior fell in love with a girl of a neighboring tribe; the girl favored his suit, but there was a rival in her own tribe. The rival wished to know why the girl did not look upon him with equal favor, and why she went outside the tribe for a husband.
The girl hesitated, and then replied — either as a subterfuge or as a statement of actual fact, but probably the former — that the rival was not so well ornamented as was the suitor from the neighboring tribe.
The home rival watched for the successful suitor, took note of the pattern, and copied it. The other tribe resented this infringement, and declared war, in the course of which both suitors were killed.
I love the old stories I reprint in ModBlog‘s tattoo and body modification history section, but I have to admit that so many of them are “perfect” in terms of the story being a little too good to be true (endings and all), that I often believe that the writers took about as much liberty with the truth as, well, reporters these days. Nothing changes, ha…