As anyone who has visited the recently inaugurated Royal Opera House Muscat can attest, the fine arts are coming to play an increasingly prominent role in the Sultanate.  The economic and social advances achieved under Oman’s ‘Renaissance’ of the past decades have laid the foundations for artistic and cultural activities to flourish, with exhibitions and galleries featuring the work of both renowned international artists and a growing corps of Omani artists.

However, it is important not just to create art, but also to protect the artists, their works, and the rightful use of those works.  Legal statutes, particularly Oman’s Law of Copyright and Related Rights (Royal Decree No. 65/2008) (the “Copyright Law”), help to provide this protection.

This article discusses the framework under the Copyright Law with respect to reproduction rights for artwork, which would apply, for example, when an artist licenses the reproduction rights to his works to a museum or gallery.  Essentially, this framework consists of two parts: the inalienable rights of the artist as creator of the work, and the transferable economic rights in the work.  

Inalienable rights of the artist as creator

The Copyright Law provides that the following rights of the artist as creator of the artwork are inalienable:

  • the right to decide to publish his work for the first time;
  • the right to have the work attributed to him in the manner he decides; and
  • the right to object to any distortion, deformation or any other modification of his work.

Thus, even when an artist relinquishes economic rights in his work (described below), such as by licensing the work to a gallery, the licensee’s use of the artwork shall be limited so as to respect to the artist’s inalienable rights – for example, the licensee gallery would be prohibited from deforming the artist’s work without the artist’s permission.

Economic rights in works of art

The Copyright Law also provides that certain economic rights in a work of art, such as the following rights, are transferable by a written agreement:

  • reproduction of the artwork;
  • disposal of the original artwork or copies of it to the public, by sale or by any other assignment that transfers the ownership;
  • public display of the artwork; and
  • publication of the artwork by any means.

Just as economic rights holders such as licensees must respect the artist’s rights as creator of the work, the artist is likewise obligated under the Copyright Law to respect the licensee’s rights in the artwork. Without prejudice to the artist’s inalienable rights as creator, the artist is prohibited from obstructing the use of the licensed rights in the artwork by the holder of such rights.