This post has come a bit out of the blue. Thing is I’ve been online a lot lately and I have been especially interested in the digital circulation of tattoos. Not just in sniffy guardian articles or ‘worst tattoos ever’ blogs (though I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t enjoyed these). I’ve been looking a little at fan tattoos and the ways that they are discussed. Tattoo-talk seems to bring out strong words and personal stories (I guess so much does online). So here’s a comment I wrote for Dan Perkel’s article on the Material World blog. It’s about art theft really – but the example of the comment I found and quoted was what got my attention.
Anyway, here’s my comment:
This is a really interesting analysis and I thought that your identification of permission, credit and money as crucial issues was spot on. It was the idea of identity which really struck me and linked to my own experience of art theft discussions.
Earlier today I was reading up on the ‘Hidden Eloise’ case (not from deviantART as far as I know). The artist in question expresses her frustrations through several blog posts, which ostensibly document the process of negotiation with the goods’ retailer. However these updates are now part of the blog and, like Perkel’s examples, make personal definitions of why the case is important. Personal definitions of art theft serve as an extension of authorship – creating a personal definition of theft as a response to the act of theft.
I was also reading comments under a seperate case, documented in this blog comment thread where ‘craftylittlething’ says:
“I have a design that I drew, especially for myself that is obscenely personal, popped a WIP shot of it on a website, before I knew it one of the ‘fans’ had copied it and had it inked on their skin. I don’t mind people taking inspiration, but it’s so so sad when they copy, let alone they now have words that mean something specifically to me, tattooed on their body for life”. 
The sense of stealing is presented in such a way that it seems not physcial as much as thickly bodily. (‘obscenely personal’, ‘skin’, ‘body’). I think this comment is really interesting because it represents the author as so embodied; a texturing of body and mind which disrupts the more immaterial connotations of digitised artwork. As Perkel argues, it is the ‘creative authorship’ that’s significant – the wilful triangulation between person, author and body which has been disrupted. When ‘craftylittlething’ designer her tattoo she did so with a particular context in mind. When ‘craftylittlething’ describes the physical act of tattooing (‘inked on their skin’, rather than just saying tattooed) it identifies the elements of body, author and artwork. The art may be transferable, but ‘craftylittlething’ implies it will not work without the specific [personally authored] meaning. This seems to echo the assertion in Perkel’s article that stolen art is “made almost irrelevant by somebody who just doesn’t really give a damn.”
Individuals document, debate and rate these debates on sites like ‘youthoughtwewouldntnotice’ , ranking posted examples with a star rating system. On these websites the act of authoring one’s own definition of theft extends beyond the artist of the works in contention and out to a whole network of online users.