Tattoo “theft” is not always what it seems

I saw this nipple tattoo (the one on the left) posted on a friend’s tumblr blog, and not long after it was posted it was followed up by an angry accusation of being copied from the smaller image on the right (which the sharp-eyed may notice is on a friend who I’ve posted a few times). I’m not sure who the accusation came from as I’m not a tumblr user, and if it’s from the wearer, I want to be clear that I don’t think less of them for their moment of upset — it’s natural to feel this way at first. However, I think that it’s important to realize that now that the entire f-ing world is tattooed, it is unavoidable that people will have similar tattoos.

I have seen floral nipple tattoos and other decorated nipples since the very beginning of BME. They are an obvious idea that lots of people have had, because they’re a great thing to do. And one of the most obvious nipple transformations is into a flower. As flowers go, these are far from a line-for-line copy. I can’t tell you if the one was inspired by the other, or if they were both inspired by an even earlier similar tattoo. But I can tell you that there are hundreds if not thousands of almost identical tattoos to this that were done long before both of them. If we are going to accuse the one tattoo in this entry of having stolen from the other, then I think we can easily call both of them thieves many times over — and we can start saying that about the vast majority of tattoos.

One of the unfortunate things about the very wonderful reality that the tattoo community has grown massive is that if you want to work with traditional motifs — be it oldschool sailor tattoos, or be it “tribal” designs, or be it flowers — that you are going to from time to time end up with almost identical tattoos to someone else through complete coincidence (or ethically valid inspiration). When you get a small tattoo like this, you should expect that it’s going to have some overlap with other people’s tattoos — this is an unavoidable truth. Sometimes it happens because of shared inspiration, sometimes it happens because they were inspired by you or vice-versa, and sometimes it’s going to be pure “great minds think alike”. I can’t emphasize this enough — when you work with traditional motifs, it is unavoidable that you will eventually see someone who at first glance appears to have “stolen” your tattoo. It’s not the end of the world though — your tattoo is just as wonderful as it was before you saw its doppelganger.

Certainly you have the right to get upset if someone copies your large original custom tattoo line for life. But if someone just does something similar — for example, an anchor on a neck, or a flower on a nipple, or a blackwork arm — you don’t have the right to be upset or to accuse them of wrongdoing. I think if you let yourself find fault and trauma and upset in such casual similarities, you are asking for misery. It is not worth it — better to celebrate the other message this sends: that we are on the same team, and have an aesthetic agreement about what is beautiful.

(Click through to view the image.)


Edit: I wanted to also mentioned this nipple tattoo, which is more likely a copy, rather than just being similar. I think in this one’s case, one of the two was almost certainly inspired by the other. However, because this type of flower is common on flash sheets and is a traditional design, it is impossible to tell for certain unless someone admits it.

6 thoughts on “Tattoo “theft” is not always what it seems

  1. Agreed completely.
    As soon as the girls image started getting reblogged a few people started saying she is a tattoo thief and then the tumblr masses started harassing the girl until she deleted her page.
    They are similar in the fact that they are floral nipple tattoos with a similar colour but that’s where the similarities end. If it was an intricate custom design then I’d be on board with the copycat claims but it isn’t as you’ve pointed out it may just be a flash design.

  2. They are close in design, but the small variations get me.

    The one on the right is more detailed to me, closer to the nipple, color matched to brown tones, and the inside leaves are detailed. It also has five on the outside and five on the inside.

    The left design is less detailed inside, may be color matched to pink tones, and it has eight inside/outside leaves.

    So two people like the same tatto idea and maybe found the same design or maybe saw a photo of the original, and got one similar to it. Do these people even know eachother or live on the same continent? They might meet now that it’s posted online but would they have otherwise?

  3. I don’t think it’s a copy. The one on the left is different and looks so much better. People do have similar ideas sometimes. USA!

  4. I follow the woman who has the original (the one with the pierced nipple) and it was a design her and a friend made and then her friend tattooed for her, the girl in the other photo had submit a photo to her saying how much she loved her nipple tattoo and so she got it too.
    sure flash sheets are on people all over the world, but this isnt flash, and not many places get geometric designs in even if they do have flash.
    so it was a direct copy and i think she had every reason to be upset about it, she had admit many times that she has met other people with designs she has that have been selected from flash but is always very proud of her designed work, as she should be

  5. Shouldn’t the person in the original photo be flattered? Not angry? You inspired someone to get your design on their body forever. And it’s seems the girl who copied even straight out said she liked it so she got it done while thanking the original. She isn’t claiming its her own idea or art so how is it being stolen?

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