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Art Profs, Librarians, Curators Get Their Fair Use Code

Visual Resources AssociationThe Visual Resources Association has released its own code of best practices in fair use. It will be enormously valuable to art teachers, librarians, curators, publishers and more.

The VRA—a 25-year-old group of 800 art/architecture/video librarians, curators, publishers, vendors, photographers, art historians, artists and scientists bound together by their need for and value of images—drew upon the model of the suite of codes of best practices facilitated by the Center for Social Media and the Washington College of Law’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property.

Why They Need It

The Statement well describes the need for professionals working with image resources to know their free speech rights in regard to fair use:

"Uncertainty surrounding the ability to rely on fair use had a tangible negative impact on teaching, research, and study: for example, some faculty and students do not have access to the images they need for pedagogical purposes because the images cannot be licensed and because these individuals are unsure of the boundaries of fair use. In other instances, individual institutions are uncertain about their ability legally to preserve image collections and to migrate them to new formats. In still other cases, some graduate students are tailoring their doctoral dissertation and thesis choices based on perceived licensing barriers."

What It Covers

The Statement should allow students, faculty, and other professionals to get back to work. It describes six uses of copyrighted still images that the VRA believes fall within the U.S. doctrine of fair use.

The six uses are:

  • preservation (storing images for repeated use in a teaching context and transferring images to new formats);
  • use of images for teaching purposes;
  • use of images (both large, high-resolution images and thumbnails) on course websites and in other online study materials;
  • adaptations of images for teaching and classroom work by students;
  • sharing images among educational and cultural institutions to facilitate teaching and study;
  • reproduction of images in theses and dissertations.

Articulating a Consensus

VRA President Maureen Burns noted that the statement puts down in writing the community’s consensus:

"An important aspect of VRA’s mission is to inform educational image users about, and to help form consensus around, best practices in the field of visual resources. These guidelines reflect a consensus (albeit largely unwritten to date) within the Association – and by extension the broader educational community – that the practices described within the guidelines are reasonable assertions of fair use. Our hope is that this document will help to ensure that images are robustly and widely used to facilitate uninhibited academic inquiry."

A Return to Best Practice

She also noted that in one area it might allow people in the field to return to their former good and mission-centric practice; the Statement, she said, "draws from the academic community’s longstanding practice of relying on fair use for teaching and learning, and highlights one area – the use of images in theses and dissertations – where the Association believes the community should return to its previous practices of being more assertive."