Celebrity Tattoo News: Kate Moss’s Partnership with Carphone Warehouse

Do you think of your mobile phone as a fashion accessory to complement your wardrobe?  This Kat has only changed her iPhone case once – when she dropped her phone and broke the first case.  But Kate Moss views mobile phones and tablets as fashion accessories and has thus teamed up with Carphone Warehouse to add her fashion flair to Carphone Warehouse’s newest range of accessories.

Interestingly, this report about the partnership notes that Ms Moss’s logo for her line of mobile accessories centres around an anchor tattoo that she sports on her wrist.   

In the US, there have been several major lawsuits in which a tattoo artist has asserted copyright over the commercial use of the tattoo design by the recipient of the tattoo or a party affiliated with the recipient.  The most notable of such lawsuits are those involving the artists who created tattoos for sportsmen MikeTyson and Rasheed Wallace.  In Mike Tyson’s case, the artist who created the tattoo that covers half of Mr Tyson's face sued the producers of the movie The Hangover II for using a replica of his tattoo in the film and in advertisements for the film (reported on by the AmeriKat here).  And Nike learned the hard way that celebrities don’t necessarily own the copyright in their body art.  The tattoo artist who created Rasheed Wallace’s tattoo sued Nike for creating a commercial that specifically focused on the tattoo itself rather than Mr Wallace as a whole.  While a tattoo artist who creates a work for a celebrity must understand (and probably desires) that the tattoo will be featured in photographs and videos of the celebrity (given that the tattoo becomes a part of the celebrity’s body), that understanding may not extend to all commercial uses. 
These prior lawsuits got this Kat wondering: Did Ms Moss and the tattoo artist who inked her wrist sign a "work for hire" agreement that transferred ownership of the copyright in the tattoo design to Ms Moss?  If not, it seems like a risky proposition for Ms Moss and Carphone Warehouse to use the design as a trade mark for their jointly branded line of products.  Given that the anchor tattoo has been highly visible in various ads featuring Kate Moss, as in the photo, right, it is likely that she gained ownership of the tattoo.  On the other hand, if the creator of the tattoo did not transfer ownership of the tattoo, but merely approved of, or failed to object to, the tattoo's visibility in photographs of Ms Moss, even those photographs used commercially, Ms Moss should not rely on the prior uses when creating designs for Carphone Warehouse.  The creator might consider the incorporation of the design into Ms Moss's Carphone Warehouse logo to be a violation of his or her copyright in the design. 
Would any readers care to comment?
Celebrity Tattoo News: Kate Moss’s Partnership with Carphone Warehouse Celebrity Tattoo News: Kate Moss’s Partnership with Carphone Warehouse Reviewed by Miri Frankel on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 Rating: 5


  1. I would question whether copyright subsists in the Kate Moss tattoo, it being a fairly generic line-drawing style anchor - which is commonly used in Old-School tattooing. Its meaning goes beyond the obvious, direct links to the sea, including symbolism for the "hold steady" motto, as well as embedded symbolism sheltering the holy cross, and conceptual reference to strength and stability, for example. It seems unlikely to me that it qualifies as a 'work' for the purposes of UK copyright law.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Dot! I agree that an anchor drawing seems fairly generic in general. But this particular anchor design seemed to be stylized differently enough from most anchor drawings I've seen that there may be claim to copyright.

    On the flip side of my questions about copyright ownership: If there is no copyright in the anchor design for being too generic, is that really a design around which a company wants to build its brand?

  3. Miri - I'm interested to know (as someone who is not experienced in copyright matters.. and also someone with a very similar, small, line-drawing stylised anchor tattoo - I had no idea Kate Moss had one, but its a hugely popular symbol at the moment!) - what stylisation in the anchor design leads you to think it may permit subsistence of copyright? It seems unlikely to me that the tattoo artist would claim copyright in these circumstances, cf. the artists of the Mike Tyson and Rasheed Wallace works.

    It seems to me that the agreement between Kate Moss and Carphone Warehouse is really over the association of her name and image (her most powerful assets - recognised by everyone, rather than the tattoo which only a much smaller number of people may associate with her), around which to build their brand?

  4. What if the tattoo artist didn't design it? It could have been a design supplied by Kate herself, or by a third party. It might have been a bespoke design for her, or it might have been taken from some flash (the sheets of tattoo art which adorns tattooist's walls). If the latter, the artist may not even be aware that his art has been used in such a manner.

    Given that flash is sold to tattooists on the understanding that it will be used to tattoo people, has the original artist in such cases licensed all rights to the tattoo artist? And does a tattoo artist who tattoos someone else design onto a person retain some form of performer's right?

    Lots of fun questions!

  5. If the tattoo is not protectable (or not anymore), then the entire "Kate Moss line" is not very distinguishable and/or protectable in itself through the tatto.
    Hence I agree with dot comment's second part.

    Stefano Galli, Italy


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