Law in the art industry – what are the legalities artists and buyers should be aware of?

    Whether you are an enjoyer of artistic creations or enjoy making art yourself, the law works is a crucial, if oft-overlooked part of the art process. In this guide, we explore the topic of law in the art world; what it is, why it matters, and some of the different types of laws that are in place.

    What is law in art? Why does it matter?

    Put simply, failure to account for the law can leave artists and buyers open to being taken advantage of or taking advantage of one another. The law protects the rights of both parties. For buyers, this includes protection from fraud, misrepresentation, and paying an unfair price. For artists, it protects artworks from being stolen or copied, and ensures that they are correctly compensated for their hard work and creativity.

    Law in the art industry is also used to retain trust in art and the market for it. And lastly, the government has an incentive to promote the law through art – both to maximise tax revenues and support the creation of art for the good of culture and society at large.

    Copyright law

    One of the main types of law that impacts artists, buyers, and people working with art is copyright. According to the National Portrait Gallery, this type of law is designed to ensure that the creator of a piece of art has complete control over how the piece is used, including stopping it being copied. If a third party wishes to use the art for a commercial purpose, they must pay the creator for the privilege.

    Copyright law is enshrined in the UK under the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, with copyright lasting until the artist passes away, plus 70 years. After this period, it typically enters the public domain and may be used by any individual or organisation.

    Art ownership laws

    There is also law governing what happens when an artist sells their art. According to expert comments in a 2019 Lexology article, when a seller and buyer agree to go through with a sale, copyright over the work falls to the buyer.

    Of course, the seller may wish to stipulate within the contract of sale that they retain copyright, though this would need to be agreed by the opposing party too. Once payment is made, the contract goes into effect.

    Art forgery law

    If a piece of art is sold and turns out to be a fake, then the buyer may be covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 or Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the buyer be guaranteed a refund. The contract itself may also feature terms relating to forgeries. Proving a piece of art is fake can be complicated, however.

    Understanding the interplay between art and the law is important. Hopefully, with the information above, you should feel more at ease selling, purchasing, or using art commercially.

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