Skip to main content


Collages by their very nature use existing images to create a new work, and therefore raise many questions about copyright. Generally speaking, an artist may incorporate other copyrighted works in a collage, provided they have sought permission from the copyright holder or the elements used are so small as to be unrecognisable. It’s inadvisable to reproduce wholesale other copyrighted works in a collage.

Whether collages are protected by copyright

A collage is an artistic work in its own right and will be protected by copyright, provided it is original.

Using your own previous work

Your previous work can be used in collages, even if you have assigned its copyright to someone else, provided you only use elements of it and do not repeat or imitate its main design. If you still own the copyright in your previous work, then you can use as much or as little of it as you like.

How other people’s work can be used

The difficulties arise when you use elements or images of works created by other people. You should check whether any existing work used in a collage is protected by copyright. Works are protected by copyright for the lifetime of the artist who created them, plus a further 70 years after their death.

If the work is protected, you should consider what you intend to do with the work. Reproducing the whole or a substantial part of any copyrighted work may infringe copyright.

But what is considered “substantial”? This is not worked out quantitatively, but qualitatively, and on a case-by-case basis. For instance, what appears to be a small element of an existing work might be considered substantial if it is particularly recognisable and integral to the new work.

Storing electronic images of copyrighted works

If you are creating a collage using a computer, you should also be aware that storing a copyrighted work in electronic form requires the permission of the copyright owner.

There should not be a problem, however, if you intend to use a very small portion of an existing work, that is neither recognisable nor can be identified as a particular work. Subsequent reproduction of such collages should not give rise to any complaints.

Anything more substantial will risk copyright infringement when it is reproduced.

Using works that are out of copyright

If a work is out of copyright and in the public domain, it can be used in any manner or form in a collage without reference to another party.

Having said that, it is important to remember that the medium in which a public domain artwork is reproduced may itself be a copyrighted work. For example, a photograph of a work of art: the work of art may be in the public domain, but the photograph of it constitutes a separate work which might still be protected by copyright.

Taking an artist's "moral rights" into account

An additional important factor in the use of other people’s work in a collage is the original artist’s “moral rights”. These rights were conferred by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and protect works created by an artist living on or after the 1 August 1989 in the UK.

One of the most relevant is the “right of integrity”, whereby an artist can object to the derogatory treatment of their work. This may include additions, deletions, alterations or adaptations of an original work, any treatment that amounts to the distortion or mutilation of the work and damages the honour or reputation of the artist. The cutting up and reconstructing of a work may infringe this right.

If you have any doubts or questions about infringing another person’s copyright, you should seek professional advice. Artists signed up to our Copyright Licensing and Artist’s Resale Right services can contact us through our 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.

Next section: