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Visual Literacy: Copyright

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



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

Ascertaining Copyright

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

Artistic Appropriation and Reuse

Creative Commons

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

If you want to give people the right to share, use, and even build upon a work you’ve created, you should consider publishing it under a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons Licenses:

   Attribution: others can use the work however they like, so long as they give credit

   No Derivative Work: other can copy, display, or perform your work, but it must be verbatim

   Non-Commercial: other can use your work, but for non-commercial purposes only

   Share Alike: others can distribute derivative works, but only under the same terms as the original license

Creative Commons License Combinations....


This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.


This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.



This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.



This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.



This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.



This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

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.