‘New society for visual artists to protect their copyright and collect their copyright dues in the UK and worldwide.’

No kidding; and, what’s more, it’ll only cost £15 per year! The purpose of this piece is to persuade every artist to subscribe.

Copyright Protection

For over a hundred years, Parliament has given all British-based artists copyright protection for their works. Copyright is a shield and a sword: a shield because it allows artist/copyright owners (and their heirs) to prevent any reproduction, publication or broadcast of their copyright artistic works without prior specific permission; a sword because such artist/copyright owners can claim financial compensation for any such unauthorised abuses. Fine. So why bother about spending £15 subscribing to a copyright protection/collection society? Policing.

Prevention and Detection

The Rule of Law demands that there be proper and efficient law enforcement, without which Parliament’s efforts to create and maintain a safe and ordered society would be ineffectual. The criminal law has police and other law enforcement officers paid to prevent and detect criminals and bring them before the courts. The civil law (which includes copyright) essentially provides remedies for wrongs between individuals (when those wrongs are not also crimes, like careless driving), and generally leaves prevention, detection and prosecution – before the civil courts – to the aggrieved individual. The twentieth century has seen the development of new technology facilitating the mass reproduction and distribution of the fruits of artistic labour: music, literature, visual art and all forms of performance are all the subjects of fiendishly simple technological exploitation – sometimes in their creation (legitimately) but, increasingly, in their reproduction and distribution (illegitimately). Where is the civil police force?

By the 1920s, the development of technology in, say, the fields of sound recording and/or moving pictures caused the owners of musical, literary, dramatic and film copyrights to develop ways and means of legitimately preventing and/or detecting what might otherwise have become a wholesale and worldwide abuse of the fruits of their artistic endeavours. What those original creators did, in simple form (and now, themselves using the most sophisticated technology), was to create a series of universal protection and collection societies. But not, in those early days, for the visual arts.

Rights Societies

In music alone there have been formed, for example: the Performing Rights Society (PRS); the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS); and hundreds of sister organisations abroad (e.g. the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers – ASCAP – and Broadcast Music Inc. – BMI). These were created by musical, sound-recording copyright and performing rights owners. What these and other such societies did and continue to do is to ensure that all methods and outlets of manufacture, reproduction, distribution, performance and retailing are known to the societies; and they enforce the payment of licence fees/royalties/dues for the benefit of their members, for what would otherwise be unlawful abuse of the authors’ rights.

The work is carried out by experts employed full-time by the societies – and therein lies the key. The cost to any one copyright owner of monitoring all possible forms of copyright abuse throughout the world would be prohibitive, even it were possible. But, for all such artists to subscribe a nominal fee to a society to do all such monitoring – and follow up with enforcement, where necessary – enables an enormous policing machinery to be wheeled onto the stage and solve the problem at a stroke. The livelihood of all creators of musical/sound recording or dramatic works would be decimated – more probably, simply not exist – without the successful work of such societies. Sadly, not for the visual artist in this country – until now. Thus, one further necessary excursion, this time specifically into the visual arts.


France, with its rich visual arts heritage, first saw the establishment of an artist-run copyright protection and collection society: Societe de la Propriete Artistique et des Dessins Et Modules (SPADEM).

Artists and their heirs (remember, visual art copyright lasts for between 25 and 50 years after death in most countries throughout the world) subscribed a nominal fee; all available visual material was monitored, unauthorised use of registered members’ works were policed, standard fees recovered and passed on to members – less a small percentage for administration costs. SPADEM continues to operate successfully and has its own or sister societies throughout the world where reciprocal enforcement arrangements exist. But not, until now, in the UK.


The Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) was created in December 1983 to fulfil the unmet need for such enforcement in this country – not only for UK-based artists and their heirs, but also for foreign-based artists and their heirs whose copyright works are the subject of unauthorised use here. The Society is a charitable company limited by guarantee (i.e. it has no share capital) run by artist copyright owners and their heirs for the benefit of members; membership is open to all UK-based artist copyright holders and their heirs, at a subscription of £15 a year. Thus, it is open to painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers, illustrators, architects, designers, crafts-people and so on – and their heirs. It has been established with advice and assistance from SPADEM, whose own scheme is the DACS model, and which is now a sister organisation; plus financial assistance in seeding the operation from the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation.

DACS offers the following services:

  • Collection of copyright fees in the UK;
  • Collection of copyright fees worldwide through sister societies;
  • A standard structure of copyright fees payable by reproducers, whether it be a Picasso or a What’s-ls-Name;
  • A policing service to seek out unauthorised reproductions in the UK and through sister societies world-wide;
  • DACS will pay the cost of legal fees involved in bringing any court proceedings for unauthorised reproduction;
  • Entry on to a list of members circulated to all reproducers of visual artworks e.g. publishers, T.V. companies.

Moreover, DACS is part of the international network of copyright collecting societies for all creators, through the co-ordination of CISAC (the international society for all composers and authors, including visual artists). Reciprocal arrangements already in train enable DACS to offer assistance to UK-based artists in France, the USA, the Netherlands, Belgium (photographers only, to date), Austria, West Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, Sweden and the USSR.

Artists already registered include: Matisse, Warhol, Dali, Picasso, Le Corbusier, Lartigue, Leger, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Escher, Vasarely, Mondrian, Beckman, Bugatti, Rietveld. A snip at £15 a year.

Finally, I have to declare no formal links with DACS, and no brief to proclaim its potential or its virtues; I simply happen to know those who were involved in its establishment and now its running. With the benefits of that privileged association I have been able to assess its worth and, for what it’s worth, I urge every artist/copyright owner or their heirs based in this country to subscribe; the benefits will only be theirs.

For further information, contact:

The Design and Artists Copyright Society Limited,
London El 7BR
(N.B.: no stamp required when using FREEPOST)
TELEPHONE: 01-2471650.

© Henry Lydiate 1984



Still need help? Contact us

Similar Artlaw articles

Related articles / resources

Featured project

Image not available

The Light of Day

Simon Paris – Theatre Director and Producer. From postponed ‘The Importance of Being… Earnest?’ Real audience members are cast on the spot to star in a play when the lead actor… Continue Reading The Light of Day

Read more


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.