Kinki Ryusaki copying Moon Pang’s bow tattoo

From ‘S’pore, Malaysian artists in spat over copycat tattoo’, 20 Oct 2013, article by Lim Yan Liang, Sunday Times

Is a tattoo design an original work of art that should not be copied? That has been the subject of an ongoing spat between a tattoo artist here and one in Kuala Lumpur, with lawyers weighing in to say it might well be a question of copyright.

It was in June last year that teacher Shan Ho, 25, got Singapore tattooist Moon Pang to put an original design of a lacy black bow on her back. All was fine until a few weeks ago when she discovered an exact copy of her tattoo on the photo-sharing app Instagram.

The photo was credited to Kinki Ryusaki, the pseudonym of Kuala Lumpur-based artist Wong Wei Yin. Ms Ho was flattered at first, but later felt indignant. She told Mr Pang about the copy, and he tracked down a photo of his design on Ms Wong’s Facebook page. Entitled “Tattoo by Kinki Ryusaki”, it had garnered over 26,000 “likes”.

Mr Pang, 37, who uploads his work onto Instagram, Facebook and his own website, confronted Ms Wong via Facebook, but his comments were deleted. Reached for comment, Ms Wong insisted she had done no wrong. She claimed she worked off a picture provided by her client, modifying the design “a little”.

“If you want to talk about copying, then everybody is copying each other,” said the 26-year-old, pointing out that other versions of the lace bow tattoo have been uploaded onto the Internet recently. “The artist should be proud of it instead of making such a big fuss,” she added.

But intellectual property experts say tattoo art might well be covered by copyright laws. An original work has copyright protection from the moment it is created in a tangible form, whether it is a sketch or a tattoo, and the original artist has the exclusive right to adapt or reproduce it.

Discovering that someone else has the same customised tattoo as yourself is like bumping into someone in town wearing the exact same funky clothing as you. Except that you can’t chuck a tattoo in the wardrobe and never wear it again. People who seek body modification usually get their inspirations from elsewhere like how we define our dress sense through magazines, whether it’s celebrity ink on David Beckham, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, Rihanna or the mark of secret society members, and it takes a really proud artist to reject customers who’d want anything other than an ‘original’ design etched on their bodies.

If you want a tattoo that you can strictly call your own, a design that brings out your unique personality and history, you can either ink a portrait of your face or your loved ones (like your Godmother perhaps?), your I/C number in gothic font, something so uncool that no one will ever mimic it (a party logo, our National flag, a Chicken Soup for the Soul quote, or Phua Chu Kang) or a badge of shame to remind you not to cheat on your wife ever. You needn’t have to worry about anyone ripping off your ‘individuality’ then.

Post-it pads are so 2000s

Moonstruck’s Pang said in his Facebook page that he was both ‘appalled and flattered’ at the same time by Kinki’s imitation, though the Malaysian did cite his studio as reference in her own FB. It’s the same mixed feelings when someone plagiarises your blog content without seeking permission, or steals a photo off your Flickr account, knowing that your work is appreciated, but just not respected enough to have someone pay you for using it. But hey, on the bright side you get free publicity, and both Kinki and Moon are benefiting from it here, though Kinki, being somewhat of a hot sensation, model and celebrity in her home country, probably doesn’t need the attention.

So is Kinki right about everyone copying each other? I browsed through Moon’s gallery to view his ‘original’ artwork and found these (taken off Moon’s Instagram and website)

‘Red Black’

The ‘tribal’ design above looks vaguely like the facial ink on a major Star Wars character. Being influenced isn’t copying, you say?

Darth Maul

How about this DUMBO tattoo then?

For your kid’s 6th birthday

Which looks exactly like the Dumbo image on a Disney wiki page. Not sure what the Disney lawyers have to say about that. Who’s the copycat now?


And what would Antoine de Saint Exupery, author and illustrator of the Little Prince, think of this?

I don’t think the tattoo industry can thrive in conservative Singapore if everyone insisted on etching something truly one-of-a-kind on themselves, without involving some form of ‘copyright infringement’. Even if you got something special from Moon or Kinki’s parlours you’re going to find it on someone else who has the same taste because tattoo artists are normal people who need to sell stuff to make money and they’re not going to design something JUST for you

If you look at tattooists’ designs in general, they’re all familiar motifs with little personal touches here and there, whether it’s influenced by Japanese demons, koi, busty naked women with a python wrapped around them, dragons, religious icons, scripture or Chinese characters. It’s an artwork from a catalogue, not a gown at a Star Awards gala night, and anyone who contemplates getting tattoos because they want to be ‘special’ should think twice because chances are your chosen design may become as banal as a Nike swoosh in no time.


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