Pop culture and media often reflects what’s going on in society, and the same can be said when it comes to tattoos. Tattoos are shown in movies and TV shows all the time, but there’s more behind seein...

The Legal Obstacles of Tattoos in Film and TV

Pop culture and media often reflects what’s going on in society, and the same can be said when it comes to tattoos. Tattoos are shown in movies and TV shows all the time, but there’s more behind seeing that artwork on the big screen than you might think. It’s not as simple as an actor showcasing their existing artwork – in many cases it’s quite the opposite and said tattoos have to be hidden. This decision doesn’t come down to character choice, but legal implications. Read on to find out why tattoos in film can become a major issue if not done the right way.

Potential Problems of Tattoos in Entertainment

There’s a reason your favorite actors’ ink doesn’t show up on screen, and that isn’t always because their tattoos don’t mesh with their characters. More likely it’s an issue of ownership. Every piece of art that’s done by an artist, including tattoos, is owned by that artist, so using them without their express permission makes productions vulnerable to being sued for copyright infringement. This applies to any type of visual media – film, television, photography or video games. Copyright infringement is the most major issue faced by productions in featuring their tattoos. There are a few different things that are done in these situations to avoid being sued or facing legal repercussions for showing someone’s tattoos, whether it be on purpose or by accident.

Tom Hardy Tattoos from a Movie

How These Issues Are Avoided?

The majority of the time, productions will nip the problem in the bud by having the tattoos covered up. This can be done using two tricks – clothing or makeup. Tattoos are easy to hide using certain wardrobe choices, especially if their in an area that’s easily covered simply by wearing clothes. If the ink is somewhere that’s tougher to cover with anything but long sleeves, and long sleeves would look weird in a scene, then make-up comes in.

There’s the obvious option of using things like specially formulated cover-up and foundations to hide tattoos, but there’s a more clever choice that’s being used more and more these days – covering tattoos with fake tattoos. Drawing different designs over top of existing tattoos hides the ink, while adding an edge to the character and avoiding any legal issues that could come up. Aquaman, for instance, utilized this maneuver. Jason Momoa’s arm and chest tattoos were covered up with scale-like designs which played the double duty of hiding his designs and adding to the effect of the superhero character.

Aquaman - Jason Momoa Tattoos

If there are a lot of people in a scene, typically background actors, and it’s not practical to hide all of their tattoos, then they’ll have each actor sign a release form for that artwork. This form, in theory, protects production from being sued for showing the tattoos on camera. It’s a blanket solution to a more nuanced situation but odds are that if a tattoo is in the background of a shot it won’t be seen in too much detail. If the tattoo is on a main actor, on the other hand, then release forms needs to be signed by the original artist of that piece to ensure no problems come up later on.

Copyright infringement can be a grey area that’s tough to avoid, but in visual media like movies and TV, there are some things that are done to try to get around these things. Sometimes the solution is as simple as creating entirely new artwork out of the existing tattoo, which could become an integral piece of the character’s look. More often than not, however, an actor’s tattoo’s will be completely covered to prevent the issue altogether.

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