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Engravings were the first form of artistic work to be granted copyright protection, with engravers in the UK receiving copyright royalties as of 1735.

What is protected as an “engraving”

Copyright legislation defines "engravings" as any etching, lithograph, woodcut, print or similar work, but not photographs.

How long the copyright lasts

The 1911 Copyright Act gave copyright protection to engravings for the life of the artist plus 50 years. This period has now been extended under the Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations 1995 to the life of the artist plus 70 years.

Unpublished engravings

Unlike most artistic works, an engraving that had not been published at the time of the artist's death would effectively retain copyright indefinitely under the 1956 Act, until it was finally published, when copyright would remain for a further 50 years.

Things changed when the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 came into force on 1 August 1989. If a hitherto unpublished engraving had been recently published and that final 50-year period had started to run, it was allowed to continue. Copyright protection would then expire 50 years from the end of the calendar year of publication.

For engravings which remained unpublished as at 1 August 1989, the 1988 Act introduced a final fixed term protection of 50 years from 1 January 1990 so that such protection would expire come what may on 31 December 2039.

With the extension of the term of copyright protection to life plus 70 years, such engravings will attract that extend period. Moreover, if the period of life plus 70 years expires before 2039, such unpublished engravings will continue to be protected until at least 2039.

Who owns the copyright in engravings

The artist owns the copyright in engravings made after 1 August 1989 (subject to an agreement to the contrary or an artist creating an engraving in the course of employment).


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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