Fair Use Week: Image Sources

Copyright law is a protection for an author’s creative works, which grants rights that belong only to the creator. Fair use is an exception in that law, and an important one, enabling others to use that creative work, and making it accessible for the continued creation and dissemination of knowledge and culture.

The subjective nature of weighing the four factors of copyright make it flexible; it can also be confusing when trying to decide if some use is fair or not. The visual arts community has attempted to create consensus as to how fair use might be reliably applied in practice, without creating overly restrictive guidelines that are inflexible with evolving cultural uses. Both of the recent guidelines by the College Art Association “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts” and the Visual Resources Associate: “Statement on the Fair Use of Images for Teaching, Research, and Study” seek to reflect the longstanding practices of educational and cultural institutions in using copyrighted still images.

The CAA guideline is a consensus of CAA members and other invited visual arts professionals. http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/fair-use/best-practices-fair-use-visual-arts.pdf.

Section 2 addresses Teaching about Art. For teachers of art history, visual culture, and studio practices, in all settings, the use of images is central to the fulfillment of their mission. (Their students also need images for scholarship from reliable sources with good metadata.) In these contexts, fair use of copyrighted materials can be invoked within limitations: when the image clearly supports the pedagogical objective, the access to images is restricted, the image accurately represents the work depicted, and the size does not exceed what is needed for display. When displayed, an image should have an attribution, and metadata available.

Where can one get good images for teaching? Licensing images from vendors, institutional subscriptions, and image database resources, are great if you are with an educational institution providing these, but if not, apart from doing original photograph or scanning from books there are many quality online sources of free copyrighted images. Museums with large collections are good places to look. The artwork will be well represented and the metadata will be accurate and complete. Museums will often allow non-commercial reuse, provided the source and author are acknowledged and will often have a “terms of use page” to consult. For example, from the J. Paul Getty Museum “For records with images, a combination of copyright status and available image quality determines the final image display size on the collection website. The Museum publishes thumbnail-size images of copyrighted works for which it does not have a license to reproduce under fair use. All available images include embedded metadata, accessible under file properties or file information.” http://bit.ly/2krgAMl

getty download

Time is one limitation in the copyright law. A work will lose copyright protection after a certain length of time and then go into the public domain where it is free to be used by everyone. The CAA code is not needed for images in the Public Domain because they are no longer protected by copyright and may be used without regard for it. A number of museums in the 21st century are choosing (CC0) Creative Commons Zero (Public Domain Dedication) to govern the use and reuse of images in their collection making public domain artworks available for free and unrestricted use worldwide. This move away from tiered pricing for high quality images enables museums to realize a core goal: to get the collection out and known to a new audience.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art just announced that more than 375,000 images of artworks are available for free and unrestricted use under Creative Commons Zero (CC0) http://bit.ly/2looZga

The Rijksmuseum chose (CC0) Public Domain Dedication for sharing its high quality true-color digital images and metadata about the works in its collection. They actively seek to have people reuse images of artwork in their collection through their annual Rijksstudio competition, where members of the public are invited to collect, download images and create their own artwork. http://bit.ly/1aHqdfz Check out the top 75 entries from 2015 http://bit.ly/2lMID9n

Creative Commons licenses are not all the same. They are legal tools that let creators and rights holders offer certain rights while reserving others. When museums grant these CC licenses you need to be aware of any restrictions place on your usage of the image through any of the six main licenses https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/licensing-types-examples/ Always look at the terms of use page for any museum whose artworks you seek to use.

Several sites using Creative Commons licenses to share images:

Here are some museums and libraries with free downloadable images. Note differences in Creative Commons licenses used.

Many contemporary and artists early in their careers do not have museum representation, so finding images and videos to use in teaching requires looking in other places. Try the artist’s own website (not a fan’s web site). Here are some other good places to start.

  • Art21 the companion website to the Art21 TV show on PBS, promotes artists of the 21st century by chronicling the artists at work through video, interviews and exploration of new artistic ideas.
  • Art Babble website that displays high quality art-related video content from more than 50 cultural institutions from around the world.
  • ArtNet Founded in 1989, and online since 1995, artnet is the leading resource for the international art market, and the principal platform for art auctions on the Internet. We offer a wide range of art market resources, providing a place for people in the art world to buy, sell, and research Fine Art, Design, and Decorative Art.  ArtNet News frequently does lists of who to watch. For example Millennial Artists to Watch in 2016 https://news.artnet.com/art-world/millennial-artists-to-watch-2016-644570
  • ArtSlant You can narrow down to a specific city or look at worldwide listings. They have an artists A-Z list too
  • Artsy  features the world’s leading galleries, museum collections, foundations, artist estates, art fairs, and benefit auctions, all in one place. A growing database of 300,000 images of art, architecture, and design by 40,000 artists spans historical, modern, and contemporary works, and includes the largest online database of contemporary art.
  • E-Flux Journal  is a publishing platform and archive, artist project, curatorial platform, and enterprise, which was founded in 1998. Its news digest, events, exhibitions, schools, journal, books, and the art projects produced and/or disseminated by e-flux describe strains of critical discourse surrounding contemporary art, culture, and theory internationally.
  • Hyperallergic Archives Sensitive to Art and its Discontents “Hyperallergic is a forum for playful, serious, and radical perspectives on art and culture in the world today.”
  • UBS Planet Art (free app: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/planet-art-your-source-for/id937737095?mt=8 ) “The world’s definitive source of art news and information. Planet Art is your personal guide to the contemporary art world, bringing news from a range of leading publications, institutions, and influencers together in one convenient, beautiful app. Better understanding of the art world is just a tap away.”
  • Bomb magazine: “BOMB Magazine has been publishing conversations between artists of all disciplines since 1981. BOMB’s founders—New York City based artists and writers—created BOMB because they saw a disparity between the way artists talked about their work among themselves and the way critics described it.”
  • Universes in Universe: Worlds of Art  A global online resource

Kathy Evans
Purdue University

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