Copyright in artistic works

Artistic works created on or after 1 August 1989 are protected by copyright under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 provided that certain criteria are met, which include a requirement that the work be original. Artistic works can be protected by copyright regardless of their artistic quality.

Works created before 1 August 1989 may be protected by copyright under earlier legislation.

What is an artistic work?

The definition “artistic work” covers a broad range of types of work. The following types of work fall within the definition of “artistic work”:

“Graphic works”

“Graphic works” includes the following types of work:

  • paintings;

  • drawings (including architects drawings, engineering drawings, circuit diagrams, drawings of garments and cutting patterns, drawings of patterns for bedspreads and cushion covers, cartoons);

  • diagrams;

  • maps;

  • charts;

  • plans;

  • engravings (including rubber stereo used to print images on heat transfer paper and moulds for making the “Frisbee”);

  • etchings;

  • lithographs;

  • woodcuts; and

  • similar works.

However, the Courts have held that grease paint make-up applied to the face of a pop star is not protected by copyright.



This includes casts and models made for the purposes of sculpture, toy soldiers, wall plaques, medals and coins, plaster casts of toasted sandwiches. However, dental impression trays have been held not to be sculptures.


The Courts have interpreted the meaning of collage by reference to the Oxford English Dictionary and have held that a mere collection of random, unrelated and unfixed objects does not amount to a collage.

Works of architecture

This includes buildings, parts of buildings and models for buildings (architects plans are protected separately as graphic works).

Works of “artistic craftsmanship”

There is no clear definition as to what amounts to “artistic craftsmanship” and the Courts will decide cases on a case by case basis taking into account the facts of each particular case. However, for such works to be protected by copyright it is necessary to show that the author was both an artist and a craftsman.

How long does copyright in an artistic work last?

As a general rule copyright in an artistic work expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies. There are, however, some exceptions to this general rule in relation to works of unknown authorship, works created outside of the EEA by non EEA nationals, computer-generated work, works created by more than one person and in relation to Crown copyright and Parliamentary copyright.