Skip to main content

Protection, support, safety: Beth Nicholas on getting help with licensing and copyright infringement

A white woman with brown hair in a bun sitting in an office and speaking at the camera
Beth Nicholas. Still from interview with DACS

We interviewed Beth Nicholas about her experiences licensing her work, as well as how DACS has helped out when she's seen her art appear on products without her permission.

Can you tell us about your practice?

My practice began, really, at university when I studied textile design and started to become a bit obsessed with fabrics that have naturally rotted and disintegrated over time. Then I worked in costumes for film and TV and after that I worked at Wycombe Abbey for two years as their Artist in Residence. When I got there I discovered the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. There’s no real English translation but my personal take from it has been to find the beauty within things that are weathered by time and nature, and I guess that’s what I was doing with the garments. I then started experimenting with inks. I created a technique that manipulates the reaction between two mediums - the foundation of my painting now. It’s really interesting because the fibres of the reaction are really similar to the fibres of rotting fabric, so the work is still very strongly connected to my previous work with textiles.

What made you join DACS for Copyright Licensing?

I started working with DACS because I was approached by a large high street retail brand and they wanted to use my work extensively. I had never had experience of that before and I didn’t know how much I was supposed to charge. I didn’t understand licensing and I knew there was copyright, but I didn’t know that you had to put a legally binding agreement in place. I started asking lots of people for advice and somebody recommended I contact DACS. DACS has been helping me ever since. I’m indebted.

How has it made managing your practice easier?

Well, the beauty of DACS is that they work with so many different artists so they know and understand how a job should be priced because of previous experience. So as somebody that didn’t have a clue where to start with pricing for licensing, that part has been invaluable. The other thing that’s amazing is that they will deal with the whole process. You introduce them to the client and then they continue the conversation. Because they’re used to that kind of high profile conversation, it means that you have somebody you can trust and hand it over to.

You've experienced copyright infringement on a few occasions. What happened and how did DACS help?

An interior design company with thousands of followers pinned my work on their Pinterest profile and because of that one pin, I’ve had lots of interest from high profile clients over the last year and a half. It’s been utterly wonderful and it’s made my career as an artist to date, but one problem is that all of a sudden your images are accessible to so many people. Some people aren’t necessarily aware of copyright and they take the images without asking and do what they want with them. Somebody came to me saying that my work was being stolen and printed onto iPhone cases and I had no idea what to do so I immediately rang DACS and was put in touch with your Legal and Enforcement Manager, Simon Lackie. He was able to provide legal support and contact them on my behalf. He has helped get the infringing products removed from the sites or even agreed on a financial settlement in some cases, depending on the scale of the infringement.

I also saw my work get copied onto products for sale on Etsy, for example. Simon helped get these products removed from Etsy and in some instances, Etsy even closed the shops down completely.

How did it feel to see your work used without your permission?

On one occasion, a company printed my work on computer skins. We asked for the remaining stock and they’d used such a bad-quality photograph, it was so pixelated. There are two things that really get to me; one is printing really low-quality images of my work onto their products and it not mattering to them, and two, product descriptions which inaccurately describe my work. I think there’s a little bit of a battle around it because it’s publicity in one way but then in another way, it’s so shocking. I guess all artists and creatives are inspired by other artists and other ideas but there’s such a difference between being inspired and actually using somebody else’s image.

Why is it important artists have access to this support?

It’s protection, it’s hand-holding, it’s having that support and that safety. I speak to DACS maybe once every week, if not twice. Before joining, when I was trying to find some help for what I was getting approached with, I felt lost and alone and really naive as well - that fear of giving away my work but not for the right price or not being paid for it.

What have you learnt? Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

I graduated in 2004 so I’ve had projects that I could have licensed using DACS in the past and I didn’t know it was available. I guess my big piece of advice then is that every artist coming out of university should know that this kind of support is there. Artists tend to not be valued or paid for what they do because there’s this theory that because we enjoy it, it’s not worth as much. Sometimes it’s not about enjoyment, but I can’t not paint. It’s so important for artists and creatives to take their work seriously and to protect and look after it, but not be afraid to put it out into the public domain. The other thing I suppose is to learn your market, to learn who you are and what attraction you produce. I’ve always been obsessed with conceptual artwork but I'm not a conceptual artist. It’s taken me a very long time to understand that I'm an interior design artist, essentially. My practice is about aesthetics. Once you find that, it’s like running your own business.

What do you have coming up? Anything exciting we should know about?

I’ve got a few large commissions coming up which is exciting. I’ve just finished a commission where they were very specific about the colourway and that’s quite interesting because blue resonates so much with my work. They’ve also asked me to paint with silver and I usually work with gold, so that’s been lovely. When I get a request like that it’s a bit of a challenge but I always really enjoy it. In terms of exhibitions my work will also be in a Christmas show at Fiumano Fine Art, who I’ve been with since 2009.

Become a Copyright Licensing member: register as an artist or beneficiary.

License an artwork by a DACS member

Find out more about Beth Nicholas