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Fair Use Question of the Month: Found Materials and Copyright

Courtesy of the Marian Koshland Bioscience and Natural Resources Library, University of California, Berkeley: lib.berkeley.edu/BIOS/

In this month’s fair use question, a student librarian discovers an old photo album in his library’s special collection and wants to make it available online.

Dear Center for Social Media:

I work at my university's library. The other day, working on our special collection, I discovered an old photo album from the 1971 – 1972 county ensemble theatre's performance season. There are great black-and-white photos of the various casts, crews, and sets. Our head librarian thinks an online exhibit could spur community interest in using the collection for research and also increase awareness of the university as a strong member of the local community. Do I have to worry about copyrights in those old photos?




Dear Zhao,

You do have to think about copyright, since someone still may hold copyright in these works. But you can easily organize an online exhibit employing fair use. The Center for Social Media, along with the Association of Research Libraries, has created a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries that can help you.  Librarians across the country are using it.  University of California Berkley librarian Tom Leonard is a perfect example: “we recently discovered that we had a marvelous collection of 19th century and 20th century photographs of the landscape of California.”  Tom and his colleagues used the code to help set up a stunning online photo collection available to the general public. You might also see the innovative, digital permanent exhibition of dance created by Jacob's Pillow

Section two of the code discusses how a library might take selections from collections materials “to increase public awareness and engagement with these collections” via virtual display. Take a look at the limitations and enhancements, to make your choices for how to showcase the works you choose online.