In Ireland, the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 sets out the rights of copyright owners and penalties for infringement of copyright.

Copyright law protects:

  • original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works
  • film, sound recordings, broadcasts and the typographical arrangement of published editions
  • computer software and non-original databases
  • performances

An “artistic work” includes a work of any of the following descriptions, irrespective of their artistic quality—

(a) photographs, paintings, drawings, diagrams, maps, charts, plans, engravings, etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, prints or similar works, collages or sculptures (including any cast or model made for the purposes of a sculpture),

(b) works of architecture, being either buildings or models for buildings, and

(c) works of artistic craftsmanship;

What is copyright for?

Copyright addresses the need for creators to retain control over their work and to receive fair compensation for the use of their work. It is illegal to reproduce or adapt works of art without the consent of the rights holder. There are a small number of exceptions when consent is not required and these are detailed below under ‘Fair Dealing’.

How long does copyright last?

In Ireland, and throughout the European Union, copyright lasts for the creators lifetime plus a further 70 years. In relation to film, copyright expires 70 years after the death of the last of the principle director, autor of the screenplay or dialogue and the composer of any original music for the film.

Who owns copyright ?

The creator of the work is usually the first owner of copyright.

When a work is commissioned or created in the course of employment, then the commissioner or employer may own the copyright, depending on the terms of the contract.

A common misconception is that the owner of an artwork automatically owns the copyright in the work.  Copyright remains with the artist even when the physical artwork is sold. The only way to transfer copyright ownership is in writing.

The estate of the artist will control copyright for 70 years after the artists’ death, unless other arrangements were made during the artists’ lifetime.

It is possible to have joint copyright owners when works are created in collaboration and the contributions are not distinct.

Protection is automatic

There is no system to register copyright protection in Ireland as copyright arises automatically on the creation of an original work. You do not need to publish your work, to put a copyright notice on it or do anything else to be covered by copyright – protection is free and automatic.  It is still advisable to assert your copyright whenever possible using the copyright symbol ©, your name, and the year of creation.

© Joe Artist, 2016

A work is protected from the time it is first written down or recorded in some way, provided that it has resulted from the creator’s skill and effort and is not copied from another work.

The fact that there is no system of registration of copyright means that it can be difficult for the potential user of a work to find the artist in order to seek permission.  However many artists and creators are members of collecting societies which manage their rights – see our links page for a handy list.

Legal rights of copyright owners

Restricted Acts

Subject to certain exceptions, copyright gives the creator the right to prevent others from exploiting the work in various ways, without permission. The forms of restricted exploitation include copying the work; making the work available to the public; distributing the work; renting or lending it (excluding public lending in some cases); and translating, arranging or adapting the work.

Economic Rights

Because the copyright in an original work remains with the visual artist, even after the sale of the original piece, these restrictions enable an artist to charge a fee, or royalty for the subsequent reproduction of the work.

Moral Rights

The moral rights of interest to artists are:

  1. i) The Paternity Right, which is the right to be identified as the author of the work
  2. ii) The Integrity Right, which is the right to prevent mutilation, distortion or other derogatory alteration of the work which would prejudice the artists’ reputation

iii) The Right of False Attribution, which is the artists right not to have a work falsely attributed to them

Assigning and Licensing Rights

Copyright owners can assign or licence their rights. Assigning rights means someone else becomes the owner of the copyright; licensing means another person can use the work for the licensed purpose. Assignments and licenses can apply to all the rights in the material or to just some of the rights. For example an artist may give an assignment or licence to reproduce their work in a publication but retain all other rights.

Using the copyright material of others

Copyright material cannot be used without permission, with the exception of a small number of legally permitted acts.  These exceptions are known as “Fair Dealing” and includes the following –

  • Research or Private study, provided the use does not prejudice the rights of the copyright owner.
  • Criticism or review, provided that the work is accompanied by an acknowledgement identifying the author and title of the work.
  • Reporting current events by broadcasting or film (does not apply to photographs).
  • Incidental inclusion, for example, unintentionally featuring an artwork in the background of a televised news report. If the artwork is deliberately included then the use cannot be considered incidental.
  • Uniquely for visual arts, there is an exception for works of 3D art, such as sculptures, permanently situated in a public place. These may be photographed or reproduced in 2D without the permission of the artist, so long as the artist is sufficiently credited on any reproductions.  This does not apply to other types of public art such as murals or paintings hanging in a public building.

All other uses require the permission of the artist, their heir or the relevant rights organistion (such as IVARO) before using their material. Consent is normally given in the form of a licence which authorises the use of the copyright material for a particular purpose. It’s important to note that the artist’s Moral Rights will still apply even in situations where their permission is not required.

Public Domain

Once an artist has been dead for 70 years or more their artworks enter the public domain, meaning that the works are no longer subject to copyright restrictions. For ease of calculation, a work goes out of copyright on 1st January of the 71st year. In relation to film, copyright expires 70 years after the death of the last of the principle director, autor of the screenplay or dialogue and the composer of any original music for the film.

In relation to visual art, it’s important to note that the original artwork and its reproduction (such as a digital photograph of the artwork) are two different works, with two different copyrights. The photograph of the artwork may have it’s own copyright belonging to the photographer.

It is also important to note that just because an image is publically available online, does not mean that it is in the ‘public domain’.  Freely available does not mean it’s free to use. Original material on the internet is protected in much the same way as other types of media. Anyone posting images on the internet must ensure that they have permission to do so, unless the use falls within a permitted exception.

Please see our Links page for further copyright related resources.

Disclaimer: The above information is for guidance only and is not intended to offer legal advice.