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Visual Literacy: Copyright

This guide will help you to find, read, cite, edit and present images.

Suggested Items on Copyright, Fair Use, Public domain

Teaching Fair Use


Copyright laws differ from country to country! Public domain works in the U.S. may not be outside the U.S.


What Works Are Protected?

What Is Not Protected by Copyright?

Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device.

Copyrightable works include the following categories:

1. literary works

2. musical works, including any accompanying words

3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music

4. pantomimes and choreographic works

5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works

6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works

7. sound recordings

8. architectural works


These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works”; maps and architectural plans may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”

Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:


• works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)

• titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents

• ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration

• works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)

From: The US Copyright Office

What is "fair use"?

Clyfford Still, 1957-D No. 1, 1957, Oil on canvas, 113 x 159 in, Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Claiming Fair Use for this image:

1. The image is low resolution and unsuitable for commercial purposes.

2. The image is only a portion of the painting.

3. The image is for educational use and it enhances the understanding of the topic.


Fair use is a part of copyright law that allows certain uses of copyrighted works, such as making and distributing copies of protected material, without permission.

Section 107 (title 17, U. S. Code) of the US Copyright Law sets out

Four factors to consider in determining Fair Use:

1. PURPOSE: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes


3. AMOUNT AND SUSTAINABILITY: the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

4. MARKET EFFECT: the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Determine if a work is in the Public Domain

Chloris - A Summer Rose by John W. Godward.

This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

What is Public Domain?

The term Public Domain refers to creative works that are free from copyright protection and so can be used by everyone.

This may be due to:

  • the copyright term has expired
  • the copyright holder didn't follow certain requirements
  • copyright is not applicable to the work (US Government works, for example)
  • the work's creator moved it to the public domain

Ask yourself these 6 questions:

  1. When the work was created.
  2. When (or if) the work was registered with the US Copyright Office.
  3. When the work was first published.
  4. Where the work was first published.
  5. Whether the work was published with a valid copyright notice.
  6. When (or if) the work's copyright was renewed.


Find the Copyright Holder (copyright clearance)

Artistic Appropriation and Reuse