Dear Worried Brown Eyes

This month, I have chosen some of the most prevalent artlaw queries to deal with, in the hope that a wider readership will benefit from the answers given.

Social Security and Grants
“I wonder if you can help me with a difficult social security problem? I am a sculptor. I usually make ends meet through part-time teaching, some sales and commissions.

Recently, I had to sign on social security: though my rent is low. I have two kids under school age and my wife does not work. I have a small studio (a converted garage, actually) near our flat for a very low rent.

Last month, I received a grant from a public body to buy some materials and tools I needed to carry on my work as a sculptor. The social security found out about the grant and cut me off, saying the grant (£150, actually) should be used to keep me and my family. I don’t think this is fair.”

It’s not fair. Supplementary Benefit (which I assume you were receiving) is paid to cover the basic living expenses of you and your dependants – rent, rates, food and clothing. Your grant was paid, you say, ‘to buy some materials and tools I needed to carry on my work as a sculptor’. This money should not, therefore, be used by you to pay for your family’s living expenses. To do so would be to break the terms of your grant, and could result in your being required to pay it back. You should tell this to the social security office and, if possible, show them any letter you have to this effect. (Every grant-giving body should make clear, and in writing, the purpose for which the grant is given.)

If you have such a letter, show it to the social security. If you still have no joy, you have a right to be given a statement by the social security of their reasons for refusing to pay you benefits; so ask for one. With this document, you can prepare and lodge an appeal against their decision.

Income Tax Returns
“I left art school two years ago and I have just received my first Income Tax Return to fill in – which scares the hell out of me. None of the questions seem to apply to me. I know I’m supposed to pay taxes like everyone else, but I haven’t made a penny so far.

I’m inclined to ignore it all, but I’m sure I shouldn’t.

P. S. I hear artists don’t have to pay income tax in Ireland. Is it the same here, yet?”

If you don’t have an accountant, you should think seriously about engaging one. He can probably save you more in tax than you have to pay him in fees. There are some accountants who specialise in artist’s taxation and accountancy matters.

Even without an accountant, you can still handle this. Telephone, write to, or call in to see your tax inspector. Tell him you are self-employed as an artist and ask for his guidance and help in making your tax return. He will probably advise you to make up a profit and loss account showing all your income and expenditure as an artist in each year. If you’ve made a loss there will be no tax to pay. What’s more, any trading loss can either be set off against tax you have paid or are liable to pay from any other source of taxable income you or your spouse may have generated, or can be carried forward into your next trading year as an artist.

Fraudulent Editions
“I made an edition of thirty silk-screen prints, numbered and signed, and sold most of them some time ago. I still get requests for them and I’m thinking of doing another edition of thirty. Is there anything to stop me?”

Yes. Fraud. When you number and sign an edition – even of sculpture – you are impliedly promising the world a) by your signature, that you are the creator; and b) by the print number, that this is one of a unique edition; and c) by the edition number, that the edition will not exceed that number (in your case, thirty).

Anyone who buys any such print may be entitled in law to rely on those promises you have made. If you subsequently make that edition larger you will have broken those promises.

Buyers of prints from the ‘first’ edition and buyers from the ‘second’ edition could both sue you for any economic loss suffered by them as a result of your breaking promises b) and c)

Studio Space
“My mate owns the lease for the top floor of a large warehouse and he uses it as his studio. Last year he let me have some space there and I put up some 4 x 2’s and partitioned my bit. I usually give him one third of his rent every month. There’s nothing in writing. He now tells me that his lease has run out and he’s negotiating with the landlord for a new one, but the landlord won’t accept any rent. Where do I stand?”

Without seeing the space you occupy and the lease your mate has, it’s not easy to answer. However, from what you say you are probably a contractual licensee (like a lodger in a house). You had a right to stay only so long as you paid your one third of the rent – your ‘licence fee’ – to your mate. But he could force you to leave after giving you reasonable notice to quit, (probably a month).

Now that the lease has expired and the landlord is not accepting rent from your mate, your position is tricky. Your mate will probably still be liable to pay his rent even if his negotiations for a new lease fall through. Your contractual licence with your mate requires you to pay him one third of any rent he might be liable to pay. What you should do is continue to pay him the money or put it on one side. If you want to leave, give your mate reasonable written notice; say, a month.

Student Sales and Exhibitions
“I’m a final year art school student and I’m worried about my dip. show. (Who isn’t?) But, seriously, can I sell my work at the final show? And could I sell or exhibit work now outside the school, if I wanted to?”

Yes. There’s nothing in law to prevent you selling work whilst a student, whether made at school or at home. It may be that the school has a right to be repaid by you for any materials supplied to you; but most schools have expressly or impliedly waived this right, over the years.

Subject to that caveat, there’s nothing in law to prevent you selling at a dip. show or at any other place whilst a student; nor to stop you exhibiting outside the school whilst a student. However, if you do sell, use a bill or contract of sale (sec Art Monthly Nos. 7 and 8 of 1977), even if only to impose a condition of sale that you have a right to borrow the work back for your dip. show.

© Henry Lydiate 1979

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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.