Copyright and intellectual property / ownership of work

  • The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, is the current UK copyright law. It gives the creators of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works the right to control the ways in which their material may be used.


  • In many cases, the creator will have the right to be identified as the author and to object to distortions of their work. For freelance or commissioned work, rights will usually belong to the author of the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, (i.e. in a contract for service).


  • Copyright arises when an individual or organisation creates a work that is regarded as original, and exhibits a degree of labour, skill or judgement.


  • Interlectual Property (IP) is a collective term for property (ownership) rights that arise when something new is created. As an artist or designer there are two types of intellectual property (IP) rights of particular importance: copyright and design rights. An artist will also have moral rights to their work.

Copyright protects the following categories of original artistic work:
1. a graphic work, photograph, sculpture or collage;
2. a work of architecture being a building or model of a building; or
3. a work of artistic craftsmanship.

  • Design rights - An artistic work may also qualify for protection as an unregistered or registered design. This can be for the whole or part of a product.


  • Unlike copyright, a registered design gives the holder an exclusive right to make the design, meaning that they can take action against someone who infringes their design even if it is not copied.


  • An unregistered ‘design right’ arises automatically, but gives a lower level of protection than registering the design. For example, it only protects against a similar work if the maker of the later work has actually copied the design to produce it.


  • Unless there is any contractual agreement to the contrary, copyright will be retained by the artist for any commissioned work.