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Published on: 2008-06-27

(boot’leg’er) n. 1) one who
sells or profits from the sale of counterfeit goods 2) one who engages in the
unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted materials 3) a pirate, a thief, a

Bootlegging has been a part of tattoo culture for a long, long time. Years ago,
it really wasn’t much of a problem -- just a copy here and there to trade with
a few buddies in the business. Afterall, there wasn’t much printed flash
available back then -- in fact, there weren’t many tattooists back then either.
It was a small, albeit illegal, trade that went pretty much unnoticed. But all
that was about to change.

The popularity of tattoos exploded over the past decade, and so did the demand
for quality tattoo art. Talented hard-working artists have created tens of
thousands of tattoo design sheets for studios and their customers -- and
bootleggers have copied every one of them, thousands of times. Just as sharks
are drawn to the smell of blood, so these pirates are drawn to the smell of a
dishonest dollar. Today, the illegal reproduction and sale of copyrighted
tattoo art has evolved from little more than a nuisance into a massive industry
all its own.

Ever alert for an opportunity to make a fast buck, bootleggers quickly climbed
aboard the technology bandwagon and began churning out pirated flash on color
copiers, CDs and DVDs. From petty pirates selling counterfeit copies
door-to-door to sophisticated rip-off artists fencing CDs and DVDs full of
stolen art on internet auction sites, bootlegging has become big business. It
is conservatively estimated that the worldwide black market in counterfeit
tattoo art far exceeds a half billion -- yes, billion -- dollars every year!

As a tattoo customer, why should I care about bootleg art?

Be aware of “bootleg flash” when you are shopping for a professional studio. As
a potential tattoo customer, spotting bootleg flash in a studio can tell you a
lot about that studio -- calling into question their honesty and ethics, as
well as the quality and safety of that studio. A studio that offers their
customers inferior art may well be inferior in other areas as well.

Check the design sheets on display in the studio. Do they look professionally
printed, or do they look like cheap 3rd generation copies? Does each sheet have
the artist or company name and copyright printed on it, or are they somehow
“missing” from the sheets?

A studio displaying bootleg copies of tattoo designs means that shop has
willingly cut corners just to save a couple bucks. And if they are willing to
cut corners out in the “showroom”, how many corners have they cut in the
“backroom”? What other inferior or counterfeit products are being used? The
answer to that question may mean the difference between getting a safe tattoo
and getting an infection -- or worse...

As a professional studio, why should I care about bootleg art?

Actually, no truly professional studio or tattooist would even ask that
question. They have no interest in lining the pockets of a thief. They prefer
to buy from the artists and companies that create and produce legitimate
money-making tattoo flash -- not those who copy and steal it. Professional
tattooists and studios know that quality popular tattoo flash designs are an
investment that pays big dividends, saving them a lot of time and making them a
lot of money.

Professional studios also know that their customers deserve to be offered the
very best. They want customers to know that their studio stands for quality
work -- both on the walls and in the skin -- and they know a well earned studio
reputation certainly isn’t built on a foundation of poor quality tattooing or
poor quality art.

Demand the best, shun the rest!

Professionally drawn quality tattoo designs are readily available from a
variety of legal sources -- direct from the artists, authorized distributors
and representatives, reputable supply companies, and licensed on-line websites.
Counterfeit copies are available from a variety of illegal sources as well --
traveling “flash salesmen”, flea markets, cheap tattoo CDs, so-called “free
flash” websites, and a host of “on-line auctions” which are nothing more than
white-washed pawn shops for fencing stolen goods.

Whether you are a tattoo customer or a professional tattooist, don’t settle for
inferior stolen art -- in your skin, or in your studio. Demand the best. You
will not regret it.