Art & Fashion – What you need to know

    As London Fashion Week descends on the city, DACS outlines what you need to know when using artists’ works in your fashion collections.

    Art & fashion

    If you’re inspired by an artist’s work and want to use it in your fashion designs and campaigns, then it’s important to consider the artist’s copyright from the very outset. Just as you want to protect your work and get paid fairly for your designs and creative output, so do artists.

    Why is copyright important?

    It may seem an arduous task for something that you may intend to be available for only a finite amount of time, but copyright is incredibly important to artists as it allows them to control how their work is used, and there are also risks if you don’t seek their permission.

    If someone thinks you are copying their work, or even only significant parts of it, they are within their rights to ask you to stop. They may send you a cease and desist letter, request money from you as compensation and ask you to stop selling or even destroy the infringing articles. By respecting copyright, you will be protecting your own brand’s reputation, removing potential legal and financial risks and, what's more, it is simpler than you think.
    Start by finding out if the artist’s work is still protected by copyright – in the UK, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the artist plus a further 70 years after their death, so finding out if the artist is alive or died less than 70 years ago is a good first step and is generally easy to do online.
    If the answer is yes, and the work is still copyright protected, then you would need to seek permission from the copyright holder and agree how the work can be reproduced.

    Copyright tips: Fashion collaborations

    Find the copyright owner

    Obtaining permission to use an artwork isn’t as difficult as you may think. Copyright in an artist’s work may be controlled by the artist themselves, their heirs if they have died, or other organisations, including DACS. You may be able to find details of the artist or copyright owner via a simple search online. You could also check the artists’ search tool on our website, to see if the artist is a member of DACS, in which case we could put a licence in place for you.

    It’s not just about clothing

    Also seek permission from the artist or copyright owner if you want to use their work as part of your accessories, in your promotional material, as the set design for your fashion show or even in your retail outlet. It’s worth thinking about this early on in your planning so you have the time and budget to put these defining elements in place.
    Beware of copyright myths

    There are a lot of myths surrounding copyright. For example, “it is ok to use a copyright-protected work if you change seven things about the image.” This is not true – there is no mathematical formula that can be applied. Unless you have permission from the artist you could be infringing their copyright, and modifying the image can make matters even worse.
    Think twice before sourcing an image online

    It’s easy to find images online these days. However, just because you’ve found a high resolution image on the internet for free, it doesn’t mean that it is freely available to use. If you’ve sourced the image from a picture library, then check with them to see what the licence covers, which may sometimes only be the photographic image rather than the artwork shown. It may also only extend to editorial uses and not, for example, reproduction on a range of t-shirts. We always recommend you get your image from a reputable source such as a picture library, or directly from the copyright owner.
    Get it in writing

    Once you’ve found the copyright owner and got their permission make sure you get it in writing. This usually takes the form of a licence or agreement which will give you permission to use the artwork in a specific way for a specific purpose. This should contain the terms that you have agreed to, including the rights granted and intended uses of the work.
    Keep accurate records and archives

    Fashion takes inspiration from many sources and very often there will be a collective consciousness of what the next trends will be. When putting together your mood board for the next collection, try to keep accurate records of your sources of inspiration, where particular items were obtained from and an archive of the design documents with the date of creation.
    Art & Fashion in practice

    There are many great examples of artists and fashion designers working together, and in our experience, cultivating a successful relationship is all about collaboration, not appropriation. Copyright isn’t as difficult as you might think. By using our tips and thinking about copyright from the outset, you will be on the right track for creating your own successful collaboration.

    Read about our Henry Holland and Albert Irvin collaboration 

    Read Artimage's piece on Andy Warhol and fashion

    Find out more:

    Request a licence 
    Browse our knowledge base 
    Read about copyright licensing for artists and beneficiaries

    Image: House of Holland's Resort 2018 collection, featuring artworks by Albert Irvin. Photograph by Ben Parks, Image courtesy of House of Holland.

    Posted on 15/02/2018 by Laura Ward-Ure