How to use copyrighted images (Hint: fair use can help!)

To celebrate Fair Use Week, the Library invited Bridget Madden of the University of Chicago’s Visual Resources Center to contribute this post about the fair use of images.

Fair Use icon: A scale showing a copyright symbol and mortarboard in balance

© 2008 Michael Brewer & ALA Office of Information Technology Policy, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

The Visual Resources Center (VRC) is one of many places on campus that helps to advise faculty, instructors, and students on issues pertaining to copyright and fair use on campus: our specialty concerns the fair use of images. The VRC cannot make permissions requests or make final decisions regarding fair use, but we can provide advice and guidance. We use the four factors of fair use, published best practices guidelines, and several digital tools to help discuss the appropriate next steps.

For classroom use and academic assignments, we typically recommend embracing fair use to the fullest. For publishing images in books and journal articles, our conversation typically goes through the following questions and relevant tools:

If the image is in the public domain, you may use it however you want. If the image is under copyright, consider the following questions:

  • How will you use the image? Based on the four factors of fair use, is your use fair, or do rights need to be cleared?
  • What rights need to be cleared? Consider the underlying rights of the work in question and the copyright status of the reproduction.
  • Who owns the copyright?
    • ARS, VAGA, and artists’ estates and foundations are good places to start if the artist is no longer alive.
  • How to approach the copyright holder? Is there a form on their website or do you need to draft a letter?
  • Do you already have a publication quality image? Most publishers are looking for an image that is at least 300 DPI. Can the VRC scan one for you out of a book, or will you need to purchase one from the repository or rights owner?

We invite you to get in touch with the VRC  at visualresources@uchicago.edu if you have any questions related to image use and copyright.

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