Back in October 2011, I found a tattoo design with no watermark on a tumblr blog (that has since been deleted). I messaged the blog owner asking for the name of the artist, because I wanted to ask the artist for permission to have it tattooed. The blog owner claimed it as their own, I asked for permission (and received it), and everything was great. I got the image tattooed on me in January 2012. I posted a picture of it online, and within a few days I had received an angry message from someone who claimed the artwork was in fact theirs (turns out it was), and that I had stolen their image to have it tattooed on me. I tried to explain the situation, but the tumblr blog I had gotten the image from had since been deleted. Skip to April, and he is still angry about this even after I was very apologetic and even offered to pay for the flash image of the tattoo because it was an honest mistake trusting someone from tumblr who had lied. He responded saying I shouldn't have apologized, he had let it go but the apology had only made him more angry and that now he was going to sue me for "intellectual property theft" because he claims his blog is copyrighted (though the image had no watermark and I had never visited his blog). He made threats, saying he hopes I am "loaded" because even though I had no idea the image was his, I still have it tattooed on me. Am I in the wrong? Did I steal his "intellectual property"?
Did you keep the copy of the permission you received and the comment that the owner of the blog owned the image?
No, I didn't. It was all through messaging, and I honestly didn't think I would have to deal with any problems like this. Many artists put their artwork out through blogs, so I thought it was legitimate.
You do have a problem here regarding copyright infringement I am afraid, since without proof that you were told by the blog owner that he owned the work and he gave you permission to use it, the real owner can seek to have a claim against you for infringement. However, if this person did not have a registered copyright of his work, he only has common law copyright rights which only entitles him to actual damages he can prove for you using his work. This means he is limited in what he can collect from you. At this point, it would be in your best interest to avoid litigation costs and negotiate with him a price that would make him happy (usually $200-$500 is reasonable in these cases and get a signed settlement agreement from him) as you have no evidence to present to a court that you were told you had permission to use the work from someone you legitimately believed to be the owner.
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