Copyright Guide for Artists

Updated: May 24, 2023

Copyright is a property right that protects certain types of original works of authorship, granting the copyright holder exclusive rights over their work. It is important to understand that ownership of a physical artwork does not necessarily transfer the copyright associated with it. This guidance, created specifically for Artists’ Union England members by Gulcan Ekiz, aims to provide artists with valuable information about copyright, its scope, and how to protect their artwork from unauthorised copying.

What is copyright?

Copyright is often referred to as a "bundle" of rights that includes the exclusive rights to copy, distribute, rent, perform, display, communicate, and make adaptations of the copyrighted work. These rights apply to various artistic works, such as novels, poetry, paintings, photographs, sculptures, software, and databases. It's important to note that a single work can have multiple copyright entitlements, such as a song protected as a sound recording, a musical composition, and literary lyrics.

Copyright Guide for Artists

How do I register copyright?

Copyright protection begins as soon as an original work is recorded in a material form. While the copyright symbol (©) is not mandatory for protection, using it can indicate your intention to retain control over your artistic content. Additionally, keeping a record of the date of production, such as sending yourself a time-stamped copy of the work, logging it with a solicitor, or storing computer records for digital works, can be beneficial.

How long does copyright last?

The duration of copyright protection varies depending on the type of work and the country. In the UK, literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works are protected for 70 years after the author's death. Sound recordings are protected for 70 years from the date of first publishing, while films are protected for 70 years from the death of the last person involved in their creation. Broadcasts are protected for 50 years from the date of first broadcasting.

Copyright Guide for Artists

What Does Copyright Cover?

Copyright protection in the UK extends to various original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts, and typographical arrangements of published editions. While originality is not required for sound recordings, films, and other listed works, it is a requirement for works falling into the first category.

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About Oğulcan Ekiz

Ekiz is a PhD researcher and lecturer in Intellectual Property Law at the Queen Mary University of London. His research focuses on the UK copyright law’s impact on the recontextualisation of photography. His former research on copyright and film, and copyright and conceptual arts has informed articles that are published in respected peer-reviewed journals such as QMJIP and IPQ. Ekiz has been a collaborator with the Art/Law Network since 2018, and a contributing writer for the EEP (Eastern European Photographers) Berlin magazine since 2020. Ekiz publishes and exhibits his works of photography and photo-manipulations.

About Artist Union England

Artists' Union England (AUE) is a TUC affiliated trade union for visual, applied, and socially engaged artists. AUE represents its members in strategic decision-making negotiations with government and others in order to gain fair pay and better working conditions for all artists.


Further Reading

Artists’ Union England is an active union and is constantly campaigning, producing resources and signposting opportunites for its members:




Membership Benefits

A membership to Artists’ Union England gets you professional support and access to resources. That means you’ll get:

  • Public and Products Liability (PPL) insurance
  • 30 minutes FREE legal advice
  • Access to resources about artists’ issues
  • FREE training and study opportunities
  • Tax guidance

Your membership means help will be there when you need it and we’ll constantly campaign for artist’s rights.

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Membership costs £42 annually – equivalent to £3.50 per month