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Copyright infringement

When you're the copyright owner, and someone else reproduces, distributes, rents, borrows or communicates your work without permission they’re infringing your copyright, unless an exception applies. It’s harmful for creators, and it’s illegal. Find out what to do about it.

Join DACS Licensing

Get free legal advice and expert support on settling copyright infringements from our Copyright Advice Service when you join DACS Licensing.

Find out more about joining DACS Licensing

What if my work is used without my permission?

As the creator of a work, you automatically own the copyright, with some exceptions relating to employment and commissions.

When someone uses a work without the copyright owner’s permission it’s an infringement of copyright, unless an exception applies.

Permitted uses and exceptions

In some situations, for particular uses, other people are legally allowed to use your copyright-protected work. For example, for:

  • advertising the sale of your work
  • non-commercial research
  • reporting current events
  • criticism and review of your work

Find out more in the next chapters of this guide.

Your rights

As the copyright owner, you have the exclusive right to decide if and how anyone else is allowed to use the work, and how much they must pay to do so.

Find out about your exclusive rights as the copyright owner

Is using my idea copyright infringement?

Copyright does not protect ideas in themselves, but it does protect the material expression of those ideas. An ‘idea’ includes the thought that prompted the work, such as the subject matter, or the style in which it was created.

What if someone copies my work in their own creation?

An infringement may take place when someone directly copies the whole of one of your works, or if they use substantial elements of it without your permission.

‘Substantial’ is qualitatively determined, not quantitatively. This means your work may be infringed if a small but distinct element of it is copied. It’s not about proportion or size. For example, a company might be using a part of your design on a product they sell.

Case studies

“Non-literal copying”

The best known case of copyright infringement of existing work in a new creation is Designers Guild vs Russell Williams. There was a mix of opinions, and the House of Lords finally decided the case.

The case examined the assessment of ‘non-literal’ copying. The decision reflected the court’s analysis that the cumulative effect of copied features should be considered as non-literal copying.

Study the original and infringement images – Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law website

Artwork reproduction

Copyright infringement of artwork on phone cases and online marketplace store products.

Read how DACS helped when artist Beth Nicholas’ work copyright was infringed

Photography recreation

Unauthorised use of photography for a music single cover.

Read how DACS helped resolve an unauthorised use of Tish Murtha's work

If you’ve unintentionally infringed copyright

If the artist, creative or beneficiary is a DACS member, you can contact us and we’ll try to help resolve it. If they are not represented by us, get legal advice.


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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Permitted uses and exceptions