Fair Use in the Visual Arts: College Art Association publishes “Code of Best Practices”

On Monday, February 9th, the College Art Association published a comprehensive guide to proper practices concerning copyrighted visual materials. The final product, the “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts,” is a document designed to outline instances when fair use can be applied to the utilization of copyrighted materials in making art, archiving, museums, and academic scholarship. The need for a document like this is great, as most of the art work referenced in scholarship, classrooms, art-practices, and archives is copyrighted.

The project began in 2012, led by Professor Patricia Aufderheide in communication studies and Professor Peter Jaszi in law at American University, with instruction from CAA’s Task Force on Fair Use. The project, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, addresses five situations that centrally involve the use of copyrighted materials:

  • Writing about Art
  • Archives and Special Collections
  • Making Art
  • Exhibitions
  • Teaching about Art

This 20 page report not only introduces the idea of “fair use,” but also summarizes the guidelines for fair use involving each of the five categories in which copyrighted materials are used. So, what is fair use?

Generally speaking, fair use is a provision to the Copyright Act that allows certain use of copyrighted works without permission. Typically this pertains to contexts surrounding education or scholarly contexts.

The CAA also developed a clear and engaging infographic outlining both why the field of visual arts requires a fair use code, how this code was created, and the best ways to make use of this information. The infographic argues that many scholars, museum employees, and artists avoid engaging with certain material because it is copyrighted, creating a loss of potential scholarship, online exhibitions, and digital artwork. For particular questions or concerns about fair use, CAA has also provided a helpful FAQ.

Fair use has become especially important in the digital age as access to images has become easier than ever. As written by Aufderheide and Jaszi in the “Code of Best Practices,” “The goal of US copyright law is to promote the progress of knowledge and culture. Its best-known feature is protection of owner’s rights. But copying, quoting, recontextualizing, and reusing existing cultural materal can be critically important to creating and spreading knowledge and culture.”

Overall, the CAA’s development of a “Code of Best Practices” is an exciting one. Go forth and share these guidelines with your peers, and make use of them to further your scholarship, education, or artistic practice!

Happy International Literacy Day!

September 8th was declared International Literacy Day by UNESCO in 1965, and has since been celebrated worldwide every year. Its aim is to call attention to the importance of literacy to individuals, families, societies, and sustainable development. Today, approximately 775 million adults lack basic literacy skills, and over two thirds of them are women.

Literacy is often defined as the ability to read and write. If you are fortunate enough to have had the opportunities to develop this skill and now find yourself at an academic institution, you also be familiar with other types of literacies. Some examples include digital literacy, financial literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, information literacy, multicultural literacy, and visual literacy.

This being a visual resources blog, I’d like to focus on visual literacy for a moment. The

two kittens sitting side by side wearing top hats

Kittens and Cats: a book of tales (1911

Association of College & Research Libraries defines visual literacy as “a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media.” The authors of ACRL’s Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education go on to say that the pervasiveness of images and visual media in contemporary culture has changed what it means to be literate. Individuals must develop visual literacy skills in order to engage capably in a visually-oriented society. Visual literacy empowers individuals to participate fully in a visual culture.

ACRL has outlined seven visual literacy standards, each including performance indicators and learning outcomes, to help develop a framework in teaching visual literacy skills. These standards include competencies ranging from being able to identify what type of image one needs for his or her research to assessing the ethical and legal issues surrounding use of visual media.

Throughout the fall 2014 semester, the University Library will be conducing a workshop series focusing on visual literacy competencies. These workshops will be available through the Savvy Researcher program, and will start October 10th with “Finding and Selecting Images.”  Following that will be Interpreting Images, Creating and Incorporating Visual Materials into your Research, and Applying Copyright to Visual Material.

Fair Use Anxiety

The College Art Association has just released a new report titled “Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities: an Issues Study.” This report is phase one of a four phase project originally motivated by “concerns about how the actual and perceived limitations of copyright can inhibit the creation and publication of new work in visual arts communities.” The ultimate goal of this project is to develop and disseminate a Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in the Creation and Curation of Artworks and Scholarly Publishing in the Visual Arts.

While Colleen Flaherty provides an  excellent summary of the report for Inside Higher Ed, the more ambitious may choose to read the full report.

The Visual Resources Association published a statement on the fair use of images for teaching, research, and study in late 2011 which was endorsed by the College Art Association. For additional readings, Christine Sundt has aggregated numerous readings and codes of best practices in relation to fair use here.

Boudewijn de Groot

Boudewijn de Groot, probably thinking about fair use

Wellcome Images Releases Over 100,000 Historical Images Online With CC-BY License

Wellcome Images, developed by the Wellcome Library in London, England, has announced the release of over 100,000 images now freely available under Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. Users can download high resolution images to be used for personal or commercial purposes, with an acknowledgement to the Wellcome Library.

While Wellcome Images focuses mainly on images related health, medicine, and biomedical science, the content found in its vast collection spills into numerous other disciplines such as the arts and humanities. More information about the collection and Wellcome Library’s open access policy can be found below.

A woman diving off a bathing wagon in to the sea.

Venus getting ready for Summer Olympics 2016

From the Wellcome Library blog:

The images can be downloaded in high-resolution directly from the Wellcome Images website for users to freely copy, distribute, edit, manipulate, and build upon as you wish, for personal or commercial use. The images range from ancient medical manuscripts to etchings by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh andFrancisco Goya.

The earliest item is an Egyptian prescription on papyrus, and treasures include exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts and anatomical drawings, from delicate 16th century fugitive sheets, whose hinged paper flaps reveal hidden viscera to Paolo Mascagni’s vibrantly coloured etching of an ‘exploded’ torso.

Other treasures include a beautiful Persian horoscope for the 15th-century prince Iskandar, sharply sketched satires by RowlandsonGillray and Cruikshank, as well as photography from  Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of motion. John Thomson’s remarkable nineteenth century portraits from his travels in China can be downloaded, as well a newly added series of photographs of hysteric and epileptic patients at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital

Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library, says “Together the collection amounts to a dizzying visual record of centuries of human culture, and our attempts to understand our bodies, minds and health through art and observation. As a strong supporter of open access, we want to make sure these images can be used and enjoyed by anyone without restriction.”

If you are using Internet Explorer, just clear your browser cache to ensure that you’re directed to the updated site with the high resolution content.

Should you need any more information about the launch of these historical images, please don’t hesitate to contact the Wellcome Images team.

“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/.

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!

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Launches Today

“It’s a great day for education and progress, as if the Ancient Library of Alexandria had met the Modern World Wide Web and digitized America for the benefit of all,” said Doron Weber, Vice Chair of the DPLA Steering Committee.

The DPLA is the first national digital library in the world with 2.4 million objects that are currently available. Executive Director, Dan Cohen, explains DPLA in three major points:

  • First, an easy-to-use portal where anyone can access America’s collections and search through them using novel and powerful techniques, including by place and time.
  • Second, a sophisticated technical platform that will make those millions of items available in ways so that others can build creative and transformative applications upon them, such as smartphone apps that magically reveal the history around you.
  • Third, along with like-minded institutions and individuals the DPLA will seek innovative means to make more cultural and scientific content openly available, and it will advocate for a strong public option for reading and research in the twenty-first century.

Digital copies of some objects are available for download, based on the content provider and the individual rights status of the object. The copyright status of items in the DPLA varies. Many items are in the public domain. For individual rights information about an item, please check the Rights field in the metadata or follow the link to the digital object on the content provider’s website for more information. The Harvard Crimson wrote, “Under the current copyright laws, the DPLA can only publish works 70 years past the author’s death, which makes the bulk of the twentieth century production still unavailable. The staff of the DPLA, however, is working to overcome this obstacle.”

Library Journal also has an article in celebration of the DPLA launch that highlights the collaborative efforts made along the road.

We hope you enjoy this exciting new collection!

New Year, New Site!

The Visual Resources Center is pleased to announce the launch of their new website!


Find images!

Discover tools for editing, presenting and preserving visual materials!

Get help and further resources!

The new website contains much of the same content as the old, but we’ve moved things around in the hopes of making it more streamlined and easier to find what you’re looking for. Please send us any comments or suggestions you may have!

Instructional images will continue to be available via ARTstor.

NGA Images

Copyright can seem like a real quagmire sometimes. What images can I use without messy repercussions? Is someone going to sue me? What is open access? What is fair use?

Rubens Peale with a Geranium

Rubens Peale with a Geranium by Rembrandt Peals

Well, I’ve got good news. The National Gallery of Art has a collection of images you can reproduce without fear, for any use. Over 20,000, high-resolution, open access images are at your disposal. For free! You can be sitting pretty like our pal over here, with your polished, professional, and perfectly legal presentation.

Copyright currently covers a work until 70 years after the creator’s death. That is the simple version though. I mean, really simple. A more nuanced approach to copyright can be found on April 9 at the Savvy Researcher Workshop titled: Practical Copyright: Considerations for Teaching and Research.

In addition to being open access, NGA Images allows users to browse, search, share, save, and download images. The user-friendly site has also set up it’s own featured image collections, including a folder of “frequently requested” images such as Vermeer’s “Woman Holding a Balance.”

You’re probably thinking that this can’t possibly get any better. But it can. NGA also includes a reproduction guide in it’s help section for those of you publishing with images. Including this document when you send images to you publisher will help to ensure maximum image quality, making you and your publication shine.

Explore and enjoy!

copyright articles and resources

An unfortunate part of working with digital collections and other visual resources is dealing with copyright. While we can’t answer specific questions, we can provide you with some resources that may help steer you in the right direction. Here are a couple:

Recently Nancy Sims, the copyright program librarian at the University of Minnesota, was on campus to talk about copyright and academia. As both a lawyer and a librarian, her voice on such matters is highly valued. Back in May of this year she was interviewed by Jennifer Howard of the Chronicle of Higher Education, with the resulting article being called “What you don’t know about copyright, but should.” The article reads as a bulleted list of pointers about copyright, and provides much food for thought.

Not too long after the Chronicle of Higher Education published the article about Nancy Sims, it came out with another copyright article written by Jeffrey R. Young about fair use in education. Called “Pushing back against legal threats by putting fair use forward,” it features two scholars at American University—Patricia Aufderheide, a film-studies professor, and Peter Jaszi, a law professor. The two professors recently published a book titled Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright, which deals with what they call misperceptions about the fair-use rules of U.S. copyright law. This is not the first time Aufderheide and Jaszi have worked together;  since 1996 they have been researching fair use and publishing guidelines for different types of creative work, such as documentary filmmaking. While I haven’t read the book, it sounds like it could be a great read on a complex topic.

ARTstor’s Images for Academic Publishing (IAP)

Ever notice the little icons below the image thumbnails while you’re browsing ARTstor? One of the icons simply says “IAP,” which means images for academic publishing. This ARTstor program “seeks to facilitate scholarship in the arts by reducing the costs associated with publishing images in academic journals and similar publications.” Images with an IAP icon associated with them are available to use free of charge in scholarly publications. There are currently 6,700 images provided by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and 3,900 images from the Mellink Archive at Bryn Mawr College. For more information regarding this program, click here or contact ARTstor.

“The Commons” on Flickr

Flickr is home to “The Commons,” a public photo collection that began in 2008 as a collaboration between Flickr and the Library of Congress. It has since expanded to include over 45 institutions, including NASA, the Imperial War Museum, and the New York Public Librar. The Commons is host to thousands of images covering a breadth of subjects, all copyright free.

Users are invited to add tags and descriptions to the photos, making the collection richer and more accessible.