Art Exhibitions & Copyright

Written by Cassine Bering | March 15, 2023


You’re planning to showcase your favourite paintings in a public exhibition. You’ve selected the art, booked the venue and announced the show but what can you legally do with the artwork?

Let’s start with the basics. Copyright laws protect the rights of artists, and in the UK, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 provides the framework for copyright protection, including public exhibitions of artwork.

When it comes to exhibiting artwork in public, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s important to determine whether the artwork in question is still protected by copyright. In the UK, copyright protection generally lasts for the life of the artist plus 70 years after their death.

Assuming the artwork is still protected by copyright, you then need to determine whether the exhibition constitutes a “restricted act” under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This is just a fancy way of saying that some actions are exclusively reserved for the copyright holder, such as copying or distributing the work.

In the case of public exhibitions, displaying the artwork itself is generally not considered a restricted act. However, there are some important exceptions to this rule. For example, if the artwork is being exhibited in a commercial context, such as a gallery or museum, the exhibition may be considered a restricted act if it includes the sale of merchandise or other products featuring the artwork.

Another important consideration is whether the exhibition will involve the reproduction of the artwork in any form. Reproduction can include anything from photographs or scans of the artwork to 3D models or digital recreations. This includes featuring the artwork in your flyers or adverts for the exhibition. If any form of reproduction is involved, it’s essential to obtain permission from the copyright holder or their representatives, such as a licensing agency.

It’s worth noting that copyright law can be complex and subject to interpretation, and there may be nuances or exceptions that apply in specific cases. However, by following some basic guidelines and working with experts as needed, it’s possible to create engaging and informative public exhibitions of artwork while respecting the rights of creators and copyright holders.

So, there you have it – copyright laws don’t have to spoil your fun. With a little bit of know-how and a lot of respect for artists, you can put on an amazing exhibition that showcases the best of the art world.


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