Digital Copyright: considerations for art and design


This article takes a quick look at the concept of copyright, in the UK and internationally. Silvia Baumgart, Own-it Programme Manager, discusses current issues within copyright law and the issues facing copyright owners, with CSM student Paulina Jawor.

Own-it is a support and advisory service on Intellectual Property (IP) for the creative sector. Intellectual property (IP) is intangible and provides authors and creators of music, literature, or any other artistic works with the right to control who uses their work, or protects the commercial value of brands. Own-it is a service of Student Enterprise and Employability and is wholly funded by UAL.

The project is led by Silvia Baumgart, who joined Own-it in 2008 after working in the arts sector for 15 years. As copyright refers mainly to artistic artwork, copyright evolved into a system that is primarily designed to preserve incentives for creators. Silvia’s wide expertise in the arts, student copyright issues and years of service with Own-it makes her an authority on copyright laws.

Own-it offers a range of free services to all UAL staff, students and recent graduates – from basic to specialist support including online and face-to-face seminars, workshops and even surgeries with IP lawyers.They work with a network of IP advisers including leading law firms, law schools and various trade organisations associated with the UK’s creative industries. Silvia’s role within the programme is quite varied.

SB: I run a lot of workshops on IP for students. Course directors and course leaders tend to get in touch with me and we organise a seminar or a workshop. At the moment I just finished working with BA Animation students on short animations about copyright myths, it was great fun.

groupCopyright and technology

Copyright laws were highly criticised for not being drafted with the ordinary consumers in mind. Thus, constant revision has been applied, especially in the current climate of continuous changes and developments to communications. So, how have technology developments of the 21st century changed copyright law?

SB: It’s not that they are changing every few years, it’s kind of an ongoing review. Recently in October, copyright law and design right law have changed. It’s all about enforcement, thus copyright laws are reviewed regularly in order to keep up with technology. 


‘Orphan’ works

Another interesting issue is that of ‘Orphan’ works. These are works in which copyright still exists, but where the rights holder, whether it be the creator of the work or successor in title, cannot be located.

SB: I can give you a perfect example. There’s a lot of work online which has lost their authors. People don’t know where it came from, who’s the author or the copyright holder. It’s a big problem.  This type of work is referred to as ‘orphan work’. figuratively,  work that has lost its parent. Problems arise when  you want to use that work. What you can do is a due diligence search, which is basically an attempt to find the copyright holder. This doesn’t mean you can use the work or that you are not infringing copyright laws; you are still doing so. The copyright holder can sue you for infringement. However if sued a judge will look at what you have done in order to identify the copy right holder and how thoroughly you searched for the owner when assessing the damages you have to pay for infringement.

A new licensing scheme was launched on 29th October this year. It could give wider access to at least 91 million culturally valuable ‘Orphan’ creative works – across multiple forms of media and subjects.

Under the new scheme, ‘Orphan’ work can be reproduced on websites, TV and print media through the issue of a license, which can be granted by the Intellectual Property Office, without breaking the law.

Also under the new scheme right holders will get a proper return if they reappear, while ensuring that citizens and consumers will be able to access more of our country’s creations – dispelling the notion that intellectual property is a barrier to the public availability of works.

The scheme also aims to reunite copyright holders with their creations and ensure they are paid, by requiring the applicant to conduct a diligent search and allowing the right holder to search the register of granted licenses. This groundbreaking scheme aims to modernize the UK’s copyright system.

SB: The government will establish a ‘collecting society’ where people pay a fee if they want to use an ‘Orphan’ work. The cost of which depends on the usage they make of this work.  They can use it when they have paid the fee and the copyright holder if they come forward will be able to go to the collecting society, instead of the infringer, to collect money. In my opinion it’s a good solution. However many content providers have problems with it, because proper licenses negotiated with the original copyright holder would generate more money than what they will receive from a collecting society. But on the other hand if your work is lost or you have not managed to connect your work with your website or email address, which  happens all the time; this way at least you’ll get paid a small amount. It’s more about how do  we handle the big challenges online, it’s not that copyright law itself, principles will change a lot, but certain enforcement techniques need to be a bit more in line with what users do with the work.

Copyright Own-It, UAL

Copyright Own-It, UAL. Screen-grab from UAL website.

Copyright and education

The average citizen has only the most general understanding about patents, copyrights and trademarks. However, it is surprising how the unlawful use of IP is conceptually identical to the unlawful use of physical property. One can see that without the law everything that is published or revealed somehow would be public domain. In the worst case scenario it could lead a majority of creators to abandon their practice. Therefore, the emphasis should be on education. However, is it necessary for everybody?

SB: The IPO’s (The Intellectual Property Office) main concern is that we have a generation of kids who have no problem downloading content from the internet, so they are growing up not seeing it as a crime. It would be beneficial to make the public more aware of how little money content producers make; specifically due to so many people who just take the content decreasing its value to almost nothing. I think it is about getting the balance right between the interest of the public and creator who expect fair remuneration for their work. All our students go to university at least 3 or 4 years to learn their craft. Suddenly, they realise that everybody is taking it when they upload it online.  Sadly our students do it themselves all the time, they don’t see the impact it might have and there’s balance to this; between the interest of the content provider and the interest of the user and I think at the moment we don’t have the balance right at all. That’s why it’s causing so much conflict, and rightfully the more people are aware about the damage, that it causes to individuals, hopefully it will reduce the number of illegal downloads.

Importance of raising awareness of copyright work

The nature of any copyrighted work is that it protects the original thoughts and skill and labour of hard-working creators – big and small.

SB: What I would like to do is raise the awareness of IP and its owner’s rights, thus hopefully sparking a debate. So many people actually don’t know about it, they just don’t have enough knowledge to take part in this debate. I also hear people thinking it’s cool to be against copyright, and against the protection of the creator – until they are the ones whose work is stolen. Unless a better business model is found, we need to talk about these things. Obviously link intellectual property issues to creative practice as it’s pointless telling everybody to protect their copyright if there is no market for your work , which puts value on the work. Talking about copyright without talking about opportunities to sell it is not very intelligent.

I did my BA at University for the Creative Arts. Within three years of studying we had one hour class devoted to copyright laws.

SB: Again, UAL is quite unique in the way we approach the topic of IP, developing new methods of teaching students and also working closely with teaching staff. We do it because I believe that learning about IP as an extra-curricular activity is not very effective. It’s useful to some extent having an extra-curricular activity like a workshop on IP but I think we need to find ways to make it part of the creative practice of our students.

Copyright Own-It, UAL. Screen grab from Own-It website.

Copyright Own-It, UAL. Screen grab from Own-It website.

Where to find more information on the subject

All users should understand the law sufficiently to know that they have all of these options available to them. People don’t obey laws they don’t believe in or know about. The public needs quick access to up-to-date information on IP rights, and guidance as to where they can find out more.

SB: The information can be found on Own-it website.  Additionally students and grads can submit their queries through the Own-it website online. There will always be somebody who can answer them. The IP Office website also offers a great deal of information, including information on how to register rights such as trademarks or design right and basic knowledge on copyright:

Differences between EU and UK copyright law

Copyright law is not international, however principles remain very similar throughout the world and are governed by international treaties.

You have EU Law, and UK Law. To a certain extent EU and UK law is harmonised, and there is an international treaty on IP.

SB: The principles on copyright are relatively similar. If you want to use any IP, you have to get in touch with the rights holder in order to avoid future problems.


We all have the possibility to become not only authors and users of copyright works, but printers, publishers, editors and distributors, thus it is very important that we are familiar with the basic principles of digital copyright. As Silvia mentioned, there is a vast amount of information out there, and the Own-it team provide a great service to help creators get to grips with the law. Unfortunately, illegal use of copyright material is still, and will continue to be, a major issue. However the more the public and the makers know about copyright, hopefully illegal usage will decline.

A key point to take away is that art and design students should have copyright law as part of their course in order to understand how to protect their work, should they choose. Finally, the ‘Orphan’ work licensing scheme looks set to make huge amounts of information available to the public.


Own-it website

Intellectual Property Office website

UK copyright laws

EU copyright laws