Fair Use Week: Fair Use and Copyright in the Academic Environment

Fair Use Week 2017

United States Copyright Law is a fascinating and complex topic. It protects creators AND those who teach. US copyright features a section called “Fair Use,” which allows for the use of copyrighted material in the academic environment (among other things).

Reams of information have been written about copyright, and a number of important court cases have further defined copyright. An equal volume has written about Fair Use, as well, especially as it pertains to teaching and research. Some useful publications about Fair Use in the Academic Environment include:

The resources on the Fair Use Week website are also extremely interesting and informative. One of those resources is a video produced for Fair Use Week 2016, featuring Gerald Beasley, Vice Provost and Chief Librarian, who explains both Fair Use and Fair Dealing (the Canadian equivalent of Fair Use), and encourages academics to exercise their fair use of copyrighted materials.

The VRA’s statement on Fair Use draws attention to the impact of Fair Use in the classroom (the use of color in the texts below is the authors).

Images are essential pedagogical and scholarly materials. They are unique objects whose meaning cannot be adequately conveyed through words or other media. Images may themselves be the object of commentary or critique. In other instances, images are used to facilitate the study of and communication about the objects they depict or document. In many cases, images serve as the only or best means by which to depict an object, providing the context or documentary evidence by which those objects can be understood. In still other instances, images are essential for comparison or contrast of multiple objects, or for other evaluative purposes.

CAA’s Code of Best Practices was developed after a 2014 Issues Report designed to assess the academic community’s practices in respect to Fair Use and copyright.

The Issues Report, which was based on their interviews with 100 visual arts professionals and a survey of CAA members, reported that the practices of many professionals in the visual arts are constrained due to the pervasive perception that permissions to use third-party materials are required even where a confident exercise of fair use would be appropriate. Most commonly the decision not to rely on fair use is made by visual arts professionals themselves. Although members of the community may rely on fair use in some instances, they may self-censor in others, due to confusion, doubt, and misinformation about fair use, leading them to over-rely on permissions…. Doing so jeopardizes their ability to realize their own full potential, as well as that of the visual arts community as a whole.

FairUseImageRBGThe Code of Best Practices also points out the difference between Fair Use and plagiarism. Sources for material used under the guidelines of Fair Use must always be cited, attributed, or identified “as is customary in the field” (p. 10). It also encourages seeking permissions when necessary—for example, in the case of a sole source controlling access to an image (p. 7).

Gerald Beasley’s video and the statements by VRA and CAA underscore that arts professionals must advocate for and exercise Fair Use in their academic environments—teaching about, researching, or creating Art. Fair Use is a first amendment right and is necessary to the academic environment.

Heather Seneff, MA, MLS
Director of the Visual Media Center
School of Art and Art History
University of Denver

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