Copyright Services

Picasso’s keen interest in taking care of the commercial dimension of his professional practice manifested itself relatively early in his career

and extended also to the careers of his contemporaries; he contributed significantly to the establishment of one of the first artists copyright collection societies in the world: SPADEM. His son Claude eventually became head of SPADEM and, in the early 1980s, approached Artlaw Services, the non-profit organisation which then provided free expert advice and help on artlaw matters in the UK. Picasso first wanted help to establish in the UK an artists’ collection society to gather copyright royalties here for SPADEM’s members. In 1984, just before it was wound up because of withdrawal of funding by the Arts Council, Artlaw Services helped to establish the UK’s first artists copyright collection society: DACS.

The Design and Artists Copyright Society celebrated its 15th birthday in June 1999 by hosting in London the biennial conference of CIAGP, the International Council for Graphic and Plastic Artists and Photographers. DACS had truly come of age and was honoured and privileged to be chosen as the host for this prestigious event, which was attended by representatives of collecting societies from over 30 countries spanning five continents. CIAGP collectively acts for over 100,000 artists, photographers and illustrators, annually generating millions of pounds of income for them; DACS alone generated around £750,000 last year for its 7000 or so UK members.

The Conference’s opening event was held at the Tate Gallery, where Sandy Nairne, Director of National Programmes, made a stimulating presentation referring to the Gallery having worked closely with DACS and its sister societies throughout the world for many years in the publishing of prints, catalogues, products and books: ‘More recently the Tate and DACS have been forging an even closer working relationship in order to realise opportunities in publishing and merchandising, and to enable quality products to be developed. The Tate and DACS signed an agreement in 1999 to secure standard fees for certain Tate items … and has also given us royalty-free uses for our non-commercial work, for our own internal reference uses, for the basic catalogues of the collection and for freely supplied education and information materials.’ He went on to explain the development of the Tate’s website and the digitising of images, in which project DACS’s advice and help had been of great value.

The UK artist Elaine Kowalsky, DAG Chair, in her opening address acknowledge the importance of collecting societies to would-be users of artists’ images. Such societies not only vigorously pursue the protection of artists’ economic intellectual property rights, but also provide an authoritative one-stop-shop for would-be users. She went on, “We owe our artists much. The least is the intellectual and moral right that is their birth right; and we rely on our collecting societies to reinforce and protect that birth right. After all, the industry that they, the artists, support by their works of creation is vast, and in it many people now and in the future will profit out of their endeavours.’

Rachel Duffield, DACS Chief Executive, is particularly keen to develop the role of collecting societies in contributing to the success of the rapidly growing digital marketplace: ‘At the turn of the century, the image has become the medium for communication; we have ready access to the rights, can guarantee them to would-be users, advise them on what they need and deliver it to them.’ For many years collecting societies like DACS have been viewed somewhat suspiciously by publishers, broadcasters, museums and galleries as being an obstacle standing in the way of commercial progress. But most, including especially the Tate Gallery, have recognised that collecting societies are usually the key to the success of their commercial merchandising and broadcasting ventures. Naturally, artists’ collecting societies will act decisively to protect their members economic interests when would-be abusers blatantly ignore their legal rights, but would-be legitimate users of artists’ images have always (and increasingly) sought to ‘do the right thing’ according to both the law and good commercial practice.

However, there is still one aspect of artlaw which remains to be developed in the UK: artists’ resale royalty rights or droit de suite. This law exists throughout 11 of the 15 EU member states; the UK is one of the four yet to introduce it. As most readers probably know, the re-sale royalty right gives artists a small percentage of the profit made on public re-sales of their works. The EU Commission has drafted a Directive which would require the UK (and the other three states) to introduce the re-sale royalty law, so that it applied throughout the whole of the EU. The present and last UK Governments have procrastinated over its introduction, chiefly because of a strong lobby of opposition from influential art dealers.

It was not surprising, therefore, that the CIAGP conference debated the matter in London last month. The key resolution to Emerge was to urge the EU, its Council and Parliament, to adopt without: delay; the draft EU Directive requiring all member states to introduce legislation giving artists a re-sale royalty right, and urging the UK government to support and reflect the views of visual artists living and working in the UK who are overwhelmingly in favour of its introduction.

The fact that many well-established artists are members of collecting societies demonstrates not only their importance and success, but also helps to establish their credibility and standing with would-be users of images of lesser known or unknown artists who inevitably form the bulk of their memberships. In the UK, for example, DACS’s membership includes Richard Hamilton, Tom Phillips, Peter Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi; and the estates of Heron, Magritte, Matisse, Lichtenstein and Picasso. Membership costs £25 for life. For further information see DACS.

When Artlaw Services finally closed its doors in 1984, its last two Legal Directors were Mark Stephens and Roslyn Innocent, and they immediately opened the doors of their new firm of solicitors specialising in artlaw: Stephens Innocent. Last month, Stephens Innocent launched a unique artlaw service: Copyright Helpline. Anyone with a copyright problem can ring a dedicated telephone number and be connected directly to one of their solicitors specialising in this field. Calls cost £1.50 per minute and this fee is charged to the caller’s telephone bill; compared to the cost of attending their London offices for an appointment, this represents a very quick and economical way of obtaining an initial opinion from a copyright law specialist practitioner.

© Henry Lydiate 1999

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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.