Copyright uncovered: What will happen to my rights when I die?

    Each quarter our Legal team answers your questions about copyright. This time, they highlight what happens to your copyright, Artist’s Resale Right and moral rights after death.

    Rights continue to exist in your work, even after you’re gone

    In the UK, copyright and the Artist’s Resale Right (ARR) last your lifetime plus a further 70 years after death, making them valuable assets that can be passed down through generations. The 70-year period starts at the end of the calendar year in which you pass away.
    Your artistic work is also protected by moral rights. These last the same length as copyright, except for the Right to Object to False Attribution which is shorter, lasting 20 years after death instead.

    Be sure to make a Will – and include your rights

    As an artist, it’s important to leave your copyright, ARR and moral rights in safe hands to ensure your artistic work is treated and remembered in the way you would have wanted. Whoever inherits your rights will also be able to benefit financially from royalties generated by them.
    You can plan what will happen to your rights by making a Will. We recommend you hire a legal professional to help you draft it.
    If you die without making a Will - known as ‘intestacy’  your property along with your rights will be passed on according to the UK rules of intestacy, and this may not be in line with your wishes.
    In addition to writing a Will, you should also provide clear guidance and instructions for your loved ones about how you would like your legacy to be managed.

    Writing your Will


    You can leave your copyright to whomever you choose. You can even pass the copyright of different artistic works to different beneficiaries  including galleries, museums and charities, although this may add some complexity for the beneficiaries to administer the copyright.
    You should note that copyright is separate from the physical property of your artistic work. If you leave your physical work to a person or institution, they will not automatically inherit your copyright unless it is assigned to them.
    It’s important to make specific provisions in your Will to transfer the copyright as you wish. Take a look at our factsheet and flowcharts for more guidance.


    By passing on your ARR, your heirs will be eligible to receive royalties when your work resells on the art market in the UK and other parts of Europe where ARR applies.
    You should refer to ARR separately from copyright in your Will, even if you wish to leave it to the same beneficiary. Unlike copyright, there are limitations on who can inherit your ARR, and for this reason it is also beneficial to differentiate between copyright and ARR in your Will. While you can leave your ARR to any individual you wish, if you are passing it on to an organisation, it must be a charity based within the UK or European Economic Area. It’s therefore important to check if the beneficiaries qualify before drafting your Will.
    You can also state if you want to restrict the subsequent transfer of ownership, for example, so that ARR stays within your family. This will apply if your beneficiary – or the last of your beneficiaries – passes away before your ARR expires.
    If you leave your ARR to a charity, the charity can freely transfer it to another charity based in the UK or in Europe at any time unless you include limitations on transfers in your Will.
    For more information, see Illustration 2 in our factsheet here.

    Moral rights

    Your moral rights can protect your reputation as an artist and the integrity of your work. They cannot be transferred in your lifetime to anyone else, but they can be enforced by your beneficiaries after death.
    Moral rights will pass by default to the person who inherits your copyright, so if you wish someone else to inherit the right to enforce your moral rights, make sure you include specific provisions in your Will.  
    For more on moral rights, read our factsheet.

    How DACS can help you and your beneficiaries

    We manage copyright and ARR on behalf of tens of thousands of artists and estates, and we know how important it is to put things in order during your lifetime. Find out more about our services:


    DACS is also supporting Art360, a three-year project to develop and sustain the archives of 100 leading modern and contemporary artists and artists’ estates. Find out more.
    We often deliver copyright workshops for artists – visit our Events page to subscribe to our mailing list and keep an eye out for future dates.

    Related pages

    Read previous ‘Copyright uncovered’ articles
    Use our Copyright Advice Service
    Knowledge Base
    Useful Links
    Art Talks: Dr Loretta Würtenberger and Melanie Gerlis


    The content of this article is not intended to apply to individual circumstances. It does not constitute legal advice, it is not a substitute for independent legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

    Image: Another Time, 1999, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust 2017. Photo: Bruce Pert. License this image.

    Posted on 25/09/2017 by Laura Ward-Ure