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Artistic craftsmanship

The type of artworks included

Copyright legislation does not define the term “artistic craftsmanship”, although certain criteria for protection have been established through precedents set in case law (see below).

Each individual artwork must be assessed to determine whether or not they fulfil these criteria. If they do, copyright protection may be granted to works such as a range of pottery, book bindings, hand painted tiles, stained glass windows, wrought iron gates, cutlery and needlework.

Works of artistic craftsmanship include forms of artistic expression beyond the conventions of paintings, drawings and sculptures. "Artistic craftsmanship" is a term used in copyright legislation for a category of artistic works exhibiting both artistry and craftsmanship. Items which have been granted copyright protection under this category include hand painted tiles and stained glass, to name a few.

The criteria for protection

Precedents set in case law have established a set of criteria that must be satisfied for an item to be categorised as a work of artistic craftsmanship. In general terms, these criteria are:

  1. A conscious intention to produce a work of art
  2. A real artistic or aesthetic quality
  3. A sufficient degree of craftsmanship and artistry (existing simultaneously)

The legal meaning of artistry

Whether an artwork demonstrates artistry or not is subjective. The fact that an item is created by an artist does not, in itself, confer the quality of artistry on an item. Equally, mere aesthetic appeal is not sufficient. For instance, items of furniture such as sofas and chairs, though they display craftsmanship and are intended to appeal to the purchasing public, are not considered artistic if they are devoid of extraordinary features.

Artistry should be seen as the utilisation of skill, taste and original thought on the part of the creator in producing an item which will appeal to viewers' artistic sensibilities as well as their aesthetic taste.

How artistry is assessed

This depends on how utilitarian an item is. Commonplace utilitarian items such as sofas, chairs, bookbinding and tables must show a considerable and more obvious degree of artistry than works in more traditional artistic media. For instance, although it is a craft to bind a book, there must be an artistic character that distinguishes a book binding for it to benefit from copyright protection.

Where comparatively ordinary items are hand decorated, copyright may exist in the decoration but not the item bearing the decoration. For instance, were Picasso to have painted a design onto an ordinary chair, that painting would be protected as with any other Picasso work.

The legal meaning of "craftsmanship"

Craftsmanship must reflect a manifestation of pride in sound workmanship. Certain legal cases have established that a work of "craftsmanship" should be a durable, useful, handmade object made in a skillful way.

Who owns jointly created works of artistic craftsmanship

Questions may arise in relation to copyright where an artist designs a particular object, or the design that appears on it, and then a craftsman actually executes the creation.

Since "artistry" and "craftsmanship" must exist simultaneously, it may be reasonable to regard the artist and craftsman as joint creators of the work, and therefore joint copyright owners. However, for the avoidance of doubt, it is advisable to set out copyright ownership provisions in an agreement between the parties involved.

The duration of copyright protection

As with other artistic works, the term of protection for works of artistic craftsmanship is the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years after their death.

Works of artistic craftsmanship permanently situated in a public place – special rules


This factsheet is offered as a general guide to the issues surrounding copyright in this area. It does not represent an exhaustive account. It is not intended to offer legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. We strongly recommend you seek specialist advice for any specific circumstances.

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Artistic craftsmanship on public display