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What is visual arts copyright?

Copyright is a legal right that protects your work. It means that, in general, other people cannot use your creations without your permission. You can choose to license your copyright. Licensing means you can charge other people and organisations for permission to use your work, in ways you specify.

Who owns the copyright in a work?

Generally, the person who creates a work automatically owns its copyright. In copyright law, that person is known as the ‘author’ of the work and they are usually the ‘first copyright owner’.

If you create a work with one or more other person, and your contributions are not distinguishable, you are all its ‘authors’, and automatically become joint first copyright owners.

Commissions and copyright

If a work of art is commissioned, the copyright belongs to you, but a clause in the contract may assign copyright to the commissioner.

Check your commission agreement carefully before agreeing to it. Read more about commissions and copyright.

Read about commissions and copyright

Employment and copyright

If you create a work for an employer as part of your employment, you are still its author, but the first ownership is by law transferred to the employer. This means they own the copyright in the work.

Read about contracts and copyright

Date of creation

The date when you created the work may make a difference, too. The 1988, 1956, and 1911 Copyright Acts differ on first copyright ownership.

Find copyright legislation on GOV.UK


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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Works that copyright applies to