“Can I use this?” and Other Questions about Digital Image Access

Zucker, Steven. “Barbarini Faun, Beth’s ipad.” October 18th, 2012. Web. Flickr. Accessed 16 September 2013 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/profzucker/8214231791/.
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

There are a number of online discussions about the challenges involved in obtaining high-quality digital images for educational purposes. These discussions bring up questions like, “These days we’re not trying to preserve Archimedes’ intellectual property. When do you think a piece of art or text becomes the property of the public, as opposed to belonging to the author or the artist?”, from The wide open future of the art museum: Q&A with William Noel.

It can be very frustrating to tango between free but poor-quality images with little to no attached metadata and expensive digital image services that control access to a harmful degree. Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker ask, “Is the discipline of art history (together with museums and libraries) squandering the digital revolution?”, in their blog post, “Can I Use This?” How Museum and Library Image Policies Undermine Education.

In his article, “How Art History is Failing at the Internet”, James Cuno ponders the unanticipated observations and interpretations of open access projects like Ghent Altarpiece Web application. The application contains 100 billion pixels, and the images and metadata are available free of charge.

Kenneth Crews, the Director of the Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office explores copyright claims made by museums and concepts of ownership surrounding art in “Museum Policies and Art Images: Conflicting Objectives and Copyright Overreaching.”

While these articles offer much food for thought, it is often difficult to determine if an image can be used for your immediate scholarly needs. Other sources to reference include Stanford University’s “copyright and fair use” page, the Visual Resources Association’s statement on fair use, the Digital Image Rights Computator, and Peter Hirtle’s “copyright term and the public domain in the United States” chart.

The University Library is also offering a workshop on September 20th at 11am in room 314 that will cover where to find images online as well as basic copyright considerations. Hope to see you there!

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