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The difference between a commission and employment

Default ownership of copyright, and whether you can negotiate on copyright use, will depend on whether you’re commissioned or employed.

When you take on a commission

It’s important to cover what happens to the copyright of the work in your commission agreement, so that everyone is clear. We recommend that as the creator of a commissioned work, you retain copyright.

If you work as a contractor, for example a 6-month contract with an agency as a graphic designer, copyright should remain with you – the status is the same as a commission agreement. This is the case even if you are working inside IR35.

When you’re employed

The default copyright status according to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is for your employer to own copyright in any works made by you in the course of that employment. This might be described as the ‘intellectual property’ belonging to the employer. An employee is unlikely to be able to negotiate on that, as most employers will expect to be able to freely use works you create for them.

Whether you’re engaged as an employee or independent contractor will affect copyright. It is usually clear from your contract and other aspects of the working relationship. Having a permanent job or fixed-term employment contract working for one organisation or individual is likely to mean you are an ‘employee’.

Before you accept a contract of employment, it’s worth asking whether or not you can include your artistic, creative or design work in your portfolio.

Find out more about employment status – on the GOV.UK website

Copyright Advice Service

DACS Licensing and DACS ARR members have access to free expert advice on copyright. We can guide you through copyright clauses in your UK contracts.

Find out more about DACS Copyright Advice Service


The content of this article is not intended to be applied to individual circumstances. It is not legal advice, and is not a substitute for independent legal advice.

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Historic copyright law, relating to commissioned works