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Our history

For 40 years DACS has advocated and secured income for thousands of visual artists and estates. This is our story.

In 1984 a group of artists and lawyers founded DACS (the Design & Artists Copyright Society) to stand up for artists, ensure fair pay and safeguard their copyright. Fast forward to 2024, and DACS is stronger and more effective than ever, distributing more than £200 million in royalties to date.

To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we've charted some of the landmark moments in our history. Through these milestones you can explore DACS’ evolution, see the difference we have made for visual artists across the UK and learn more about our innovative work.

1984 to 1989

A triptych self portrait of Susan Hiller in grey, blue and orange hues.
Midnight, Baker Street, 1983. © Susan Hiller. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2024

Inspired by the French artists’ copyright society SPADEM (Société de la Propriété Artistique des Dessins et Modèles) and building on their experience at ArtLaw and the Visual Artists’ Rights Society, a group of artists and lawyers join forces for a new venture: DACS, the Design & Artists Copyright Society. Their goal is to support artists by managing their copyright, to collect the royalties owed to artists for the use of their work, and to campaign for the Artist’s Resale Right to be introduced in the UK.

Founding members include Elaine Kowalsky, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, Susan Hiller and David Shepherd.


Law firm Stephens Innocent donates a desk, telephone, typewriter and filing cabinet, and DACS opens for business, operating from office space in Whitechapel, east London.


DACS issues the first licence for the use of work by the late British artist Eric Ravilious.


The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act extends copyright until 70 years after the creator’s death, providing more security for artists and artists’ estates. By now DACS counts among its members artists including Sir Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Alexis Hunter, Richard Hamilton and Joe Tilson.

1990 to 1999

Black and white photograph showing a group of YBAS artists just prior to Freeze private view, posing in front of drinks table.
Just prior to Freeze private view. Left to Right: Ian Davenport, Damien Hirst, Angela Bulloch, Fiona Rae, Stephen Park, Anya Gallaccio, Sarah Lucas and Gary Hume. August 1988. © Abigail Lane. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage. Photo: Abigail Lane

As the 1990s usher in a new era, and the Young British Artists (YBAs) transform the British art world forever, DACS goes from strength to strength, growing its staff and membership, developing international partnerships and launching exciting new initiatives to secure income for artists and estates. 


With colleagues from across the sector, DACS co-launches the Artists’ Campaign for the Resale Right, calling for artists to receive a royalty when their work is resold. The campaign is backed by 20,000 UK artists and sees DACS work with EU and UK government officials, MPs, MEPS, and other influencers.

1997 - 1998 

DACS helps to establish European Visual Artists (EVA), a body representing the interests of visual arts collective management organisations in Europe. In one year, DACS distributes a record £750,000 to its members.


DACS celebrates its 15th birthday by hosting the biennial conference of CIAGP, the International Council for Graphic and Plastic Artists and Photographers, in London. The conference is attended by representatives of collecting societies from over 30 countries spanning five continents.

The end of the decade also sees DACS launch the Payback scheme, which for the first time ever generates royalties for artists, illustrators, and photographers when their work features in UK publications and on TV. The first distribution totals £30,000.

2000 to 2009

DACS campaign for the introduction of the Artist's Resale in Parliament.
DACS campaign for the introduction of the Artist's Resale in Parliament. © DACS 2005

Following the success of key campaigns yielding huge benefits for members, DACS firmly establishes its reputation as a robust and innovative advocate for artists. The organisation celebrates its 20th birthday in style with an exhibition attended by one of the Fab Four. 


DACS supports the Copyright Licensing Agency in a case initiated by Universities UK at the Copyright Tribunal, reviewing the CLA’s photocopying license terms. The tribunal's decision to integrate artistic works into CLA licenses, underscored the significance of artistic contributions and helps to protect the collective rights of artists, photographers and illustrators.


Over £1 million paid in royalties to artists and estates for the first time.


DACS marks 20 years of protecting artists’ rights by hosting a high-profile exhibition at the Mall Galleries with major estates and artists contributing work, from Warhol, Matisse, and Picasso to Richard Hamilton and Patrick Caulfield. To mark the occasion, Sir Peter Blake creates a work based on his iconic album cover for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Sir Paul McCartney himself attends the exhibition.

2006 - 2008

The Artist’s Resale Right is introduced for living artists, generating royalties for over 1,000 creators and performers. More than 10,000 creatives receive a share of Payback royalties. DACS sets up the Copyright Advice Service for its members.

2010 to 2019

Woman in yellow shirt in front her painting.
Artist, Chila Kumari Singh Burman in her studio. Photo: Chris Scott

DACS grows as an organisation, expanding its reach and impact with exciting new campaigns and services to champion artists’ rights.


DACS commissions the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management (CIPPM) at Bournemouth University to research the average artists earnings in the UK. The findings reveal the national median wage for a fine artist in 2010 was only £10,000 - less than half of the average UK salary.

2012 to 2014

The Artist’s Resale Right is implemented fully in the UK, enabling artists’ beneficiaries to receive royalties for the first time. 

DACS launches the Digital Engagement Licence to help public art institutions promote their core collections online, and Artimage, an image licensing service which makes available thousands of hi-res artist or estate-approved images to a wide range of clients.


DACS celebrates distributing £100 million of royalties since 1984.

The organisation becomes a member of the Copyright Licensing Agency to represent the interests of visual artists for the collective licensing of their work.

2017 to 2019

DACS joins Creative UK and, following the UK’s exit from the European Union, sets up the #FairShareForArtists campaign to champion artists’ right to royalties through the Artist’s Resale Right.

2020 to Present

Six people sitting on a stage and discussing
As part of UK’s AI Summit in November 2023, DACS convened a panel at the AI Fringe at the British Library, exploring the potential impacts of AI models on creators and their IP rights.

The COVID pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) begin to transform the way that society creates and engages with visual art, posing new challenges for artists and estates. Meeting the moment, DACS responds with a series of groundbreaking policies and initiatives and ensures artists’ voices are heard across Westminster.


DACS surveys its members to gauge their experiences of the COVID-190 pandemic, capture its impact on their livelihoods, and explore ways out of the crisis to secure the long-term future of visual artists. The findings make for difficult reading, revealing the scale of the challenges faced by many artists over the past year and in the months ahead.


DACS launches the Manifesto for Artists, which sets out key policy changes that can make a significant difference to artists’ financial sustainability. Crowdsourced from a survey of DACS members, in-depth focus groups and third-party research, the manifesto sets out a road map for how DACS can help artists navigate their way out of the COVID crisis.

Working with other cultural industry partners, DACS takes forward one of the Manifesto’s proposals to launch a campaign for the Smart Fund. The scheme would enable technology manufacturers to pay creators for the work that is downloaded, stored, and shared across electronic devices like smartphones and laptops.

In response to the economic insecurity faced by many visual artists during the pandemic, DACS, alongside CVAN and a-n, help to establish a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Visual Arts to provide a forum for parliamentarians to understand the issues and challenges faced by UK visual artists.

£100 million distributed through the Artist’s Resale Right since 2006.


DACS joins the Gallery Climate Coalition, an international community of arts organisations working to reduce the sector's environmental impacts.


DACS reaches a settlement with Ivor Braka Limited, after joining with ACS to mount a legal claim against the art dealer, following a dispute over the company’s compliance with the UK Artist’s Resale Right (ARR) legislation.

DACS gives evidence in the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee session on creator remuneration – the first committee of its kind in the UK. At the session, DACS calls for a Freelance Commissioner to ensure that future governments understand the challenges faced by freelancers.


DACS publishes its AI Report, drawing on feedback from its national survey of 1,000 artists and their representatives, and makes 5 key policy recommendations to ensure artists’ voices are heard in the ongoing debate around AI and regulation.

Over £200 million distributed since 1984.