Copyright the Basics – Silent Bill

copyright text
By Silent Bill

There are a lot of misconceptions in regards to copyright and other forms of intellectual property and hopefully this article using my basic knowledge of the UK copyright should make things a bit clearer. I know copyright is something that us artists encounter on a regular basis in regards to the ownership of our own material and the fair dealing of copyrighted material, which I will cover later. I’m most definitely not an expert and would welcome any additions and changes to this article.

Firstly, copyright is just one instance of intellectual property; design rights, patents and trademarks are other instances. The copyrighting of material allows us as owners to claim ownership of what we create. Copyright protection is instantly applied to any art piece we create without the need for any legal processes. We instantly own the copyright to the piece if it is in fixed form. If something is created as collaboration then the ownership belongs to the multiple creators. However, ideas cannot be copyrighted so posting on social media that you’re planning to do Ronald McDonald bumming the KFC colonel and some one beats you to the punch, then that’s fair game.

The copyright ownership in the UK lasts for the artist’s lifetime and then for 70 years after the year of their death. It is 50 years after an artist’s death in other countries so it may be worth checking as it will vary country to country. The rights to your copyright can be left to whom ever you wish when you pass away but it would be advised to get a proper will drawn up from a solicitor. If you have serious concerns about your copyright ownership, especially in regards to professionalism and protecting future endeavours then it might be worth keeping evidence and records of you being the owner of the works you have created. You can include a copyright symbol and take time stamped pictures of your work, holding that days paper and mail the pictures to yourself. However, be warned that simply putting a copyright symbol on your work and taking the pictures will not be proof you own the copyright but it can assist if you pursue legal avenues. It would be a good talking point on an illegal street piece though.

As the copyright owner you have the rights to reproduce your work, distribute it, to rent or lend it and to allow its use in public broadcast. In regards to street pieces a photographer can come along and take a picture of your piece and they can claim ownership as an expression of the intellectual creation on that photograph but the original owner of the copyright could still contest this, as it is still a reproduction and still an infringement. It would be very unwise to pursue this if you’re an anonymous artist contesting copyright over an illegally placed piece. It’s also worth noting that if the art is an illegal piece on someone else’s property then it becomes the property of the freeholder or leaseholder of the building and they can remove and sell it. If in the future you become Banksy famous and the owner tries to sell it you could return to contest the sale.


If your legal copyrighted work is infringed in either part or whole, which is determined by the characteristics (qualitative) as opposed to the amount (quantative) of infringement so even if a small sample of your work is used it is still an infringement. This is a difficult area to determine and is based on differing opinions but I once worked at a place that rather than pay the licence fee of 100k to use Star Trek licensing they simply changed 7 things and reproduced blag Star Trek shirts entitled Space Adventure shirts and sold the badges for the tees separately. If your work is infringed you are entitled to take court action against which could mean you are awarded damages and an order for the infringer’s to cease and desist immediately.

Your copyrighted work can be used in what’s known as “Fair Use” or “Fair Dealing” which means it can be used for research or study, for review and for reporting current events. I personally allow the use of anything of mine as long as it is not for use in a commercial manner. I did however have to trademark The Secret Society of Super Villain Artists logo via The Intellectual Property Office to protect it for the members as there were instances of it being used commercially and I didn’t want it eventually ending up in Topshop next to the Motorhead t-shirts. I allow the use and alteration of the logo still by members as long as it’s not for commercial use.

A lot of us artists abuse copyrighted commercial logos and images for satire and it is certainly hypocritical when artists do this yet fiercely contest there own copyright (Shep Fairey) so in terms of anarchic creative pursuits I say be careful when one of you does Ronald bumming the Colonel. No part of this document may be reproduced or my lawyers will come after you (Just Kidding).

Silent Bill

The information for this article was referenced using The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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