Copyright and Fair Use Information

Copyright. Fair Use. Image Appropriation. Public Domain. Intellectual Property. 

These terms can cause confusion for everyone, and art students especially need some basic understanding of these concepts as they work and embark upon their careers. Here are some resources that should help you as you educate yourself about these important laws and concepts. They are not intended to substitute legal advice. 

What is Copyright? "Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works." ( Learn more here

Copyright Basics for Artists This is a great resource provided by the Artists Rights Society. Please take a look!


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Use it? Download a pdf. Courtesy of University of Minnesota Libraries.


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Fair Use: 17 U.S. Code § 107 Limitations to exlusive rights
You may be able to use a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, new reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research. Here are the four factors to consider when trying to determine if use if "fair use":

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Download FAIR USE CHECKLIST from Cornell University to help you figure out if your use of a copyrighted work is indeed fair. The University of Minnesota has also created a tool to help you figure this out. Fair use is very context-dependent, so try using this online aid to help you "Think Through Fair Use"


Image Appropriation. In the simplest terms, to "appropriate" is to "use" something. If you employ an image that is not yours to use, you could be in danger of legal trouble, plagiarism charges, and you may certainly be on ethical shaky ground. If your use is "Fair Use", simply attributing (citing) your source may be sufficient. If you are not able to claim fair use, you must seek permission and possibly purchase a license to use the work of others. 


Public Domain. A work may have passed into the "public domain", which means that you may use it without copyright restriction. Be advised, however, that works may have other restrictions upon them other than copyright, and you are still expected to cite your source. Cornell University has provided a handy reference if you have questions about public domain. 


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Intellectual Property "refers to creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; symbols, names and images used in commerce" (World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO). Read this helpful guide from WIPO which helps explain trademarks, patents, industrial design, trade secrets, and more.  


Everything you every wanted to know about Creative Commons.  Basically, this is a license that a creator can use if they want to share their work with others. There are several different kinds of CC license options that stipulate what kind of use is okay with the creator. 


How do I get permission to use an image? If the artist is one of many that contract with the Artist Rights Society, you may contact them here. Otherwise, you must seek permission directly from the creator. 
Another great resource was created by Rich Stim, Attorney at law for Stanford University called "The Basics of Getting Permission"


Want to register copyright for one of your works? Do you need to? The Library of Congress presents "Steps to Copyright" which includes instrutions on registering your very own copyright. 


Read up!