Keep Your Copyright

What’s the most important and valuable thing you own as a creator? The answer’s simple: it’s the copyright to your work.

Your work has copyright protection as soon as you create it. It lasts throughout your lifetime and beyond – as long as you don’t sign it away to someone else. 

It’s never been more important for artists – including illustrators – to do everything in their power to protect their copyright and retain autonomy over their work.

“34% of illustrators say they don’t have a good understanding of licensing, and 44% don’t feel confident negotiating contract terms with clients.”

Unfortunately, illustrators are increasingly being asked to sign away their copyright, with more commissioners asking for a copyright assignment as part of their contracts instead of licensing. 

Agreeing to copyright assignments sets the expectation that other illustrators will do the same, which damages our foundation as a licence-based industry.

So, what can we do to reverse this harmful practice before it becomes the norm?

Keep Your Copyright’s campaign objectives 

To protect licensing-based industries, we’re calling on illustrators and commissioners to unite and push back on copyright assignments. 

According to our latest membership survey, 34% of illustrators said they don’t have a good understanding of licensing, and 44% don’t feel confident negotiating contract terms with clients.

We want to empower illustrators by equipping them with the tools they need to understand copyright and licensing, and how to negotiate better contractual terms with confidence.  

  • We want to create an open dialogue with commissioners, clients and illustrators, around the importance of copyright and licensing. 
  • We want to reduce the number of copyright assignments across the illustration industry, and encourage creators to retain the copyright in their work. 
  • We want to make information about copyright and licensing accessible to everyone, whether you’re a new graduate, self taught, or just in need of a recap.

Copyright vs licensing: what’s the difference?

The best way to protect your copyright is to understand its value. Let’s start with some definitions: 


Copyright is the legal right to copy or reproduce something. It automatically belongs to the creator, unless they assign it to somebody else. 


Licensing is the act of allowing someone to use your artwork in a specific way. The licensee is granted the rights to reproduce the artwork in a specific way, for a set amount of time. If you license your work you’ll still retain the copyright.  

Copyright Assignment 

When you agree to a copyright assignment you’re selling your copyright. 

The client becomes the owner of the illustration, giving them the exclusive right to reproduce the image in any way, for any length of time, anywhere in the world, and sell it to third parties.

The client can also make unlimited profit from your work without paying you a penny.

Essentially, signing away your copyright means you can’t make any further income from your work, and you lose all control over how it’s used in the future.

Keep Your Copyright toolkit

Illustrators –

  • Check out our public resource on Copyright Assignments, including advice on how to push back and negotiate a fairer deal.
  • Read the ‘Keep Your Copyright’ series (search Keep Your Copyright on the News page), featuring valuable insights from illustrators, agents and commissioners. 

Our ethical advisors are on hand to help ensure your rights are protected. If you’re an AOI member you can also use our Pricing Calculator to understand how a licence fee is formulated and take advantage of our unlimited contract review service.

Commissioners –

Start spreading the word!

It’s never been more important for creators – including illustrators – to do everything in their power to protect their copyright and retain autonomy over their work. If you are an author, photographer, musician or visual artist, we invite you to be part of our mission.

Help us get the message out there so that we can connect with as many illustrators, agents, commissioners, clients and universities as possible. Repost our resources on your social media channels and share your own experiences of copyright and licensing with your followers.

Use the hashtag #KeepYourCopyright to show your support.

Illustration by Olivier Heiligers

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