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Art and the Law

SNS Solicitors are proud sponsors of Maidstone’s Young Artist of the Year award. We are also very lucky and even prouder in being invited to provide a Judge for this prestigious event. Therefore, perhaps it is time to take stock and consider the position of Art and the Law insofar as it affects most working artists.

SNS Solicitors have writers, artists, photographers, and even a poet among their clients and come across the same issues time and again when negotiating contracts with publishers, commissioners and patrons of the arts.Copyright

1. Copyright

The Copyright in the work belongs to the creator of the work and is perhaps the most important legal asset that a writer or artist has. Of course, this can be sold or loaned or licensed to a potential client by the artist and it may have a considerable effect on the price of the work if the art work includes copyright or if the artist retains the copyright. Publishers will invariably allow the writer to retain copyright but will also have its own copyright in the layout of the publication and will insist that the writer will not be free to use the copyright for any other purposes whilst the publication is in print. The cliché that the writer waves goodbye to their work on publication is indeed a fact for a successful writer whose work is likely to remain in print for many years to come.

Visual artists however are more likely to retain the copyright so an image can be reproduced in magazines or other media and just because a patron may hold the original art work, the artist or photographer might well insist that the work will be released should there be an exhibition of the artist’s work, with a “right to exhibit” clause.

2. Moral rights

Moral rights are an additional protection that artists and writers have automatically on producing a work. The moral rights prevent others from passing off the work of another as their own. If you say you took a photograph but have downloaded the image from a website, you might be breaching the photographer’s moral rights in the work which is the right to be identified as an artist. With the recent technological revolution making it so easy to obtain images from the world wide web, moral rights are becoming an increasingly important issue for artists and writers.

3. Freedom of expression

Some artists and writers like to push the boundaries regarding their rights to express themselves and often rely upon the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right of Freedom of expression. However, this can come into conflict with other rights such as religious freedom or the right not to be discriminated against and throughout history artists and writers have been pushing the boundaries of censorship sometimes at the cost of others. This is a complicated and difficult area of the law and defending the right of freedom of expression can come at a considerable cost and so controversial artists and writers should be careful when considering the implications of their chosen controversy.


Artists and writers invariably need to make money and in so doing, need to consider what they are selling and how much they wish to give away. When negotiating deals with patrons and publishers, artists and writers should be very clear of their rights and what it is they are selling. When courting controversy, they should also be aware of the implications of their decisions.

Any writers or visual artists should consider contacting SNS Solicitors should they have a legal problem or need help with the less creative side of the business.

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