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!

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