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.