What is copyright?

“Copyright is a form of protection provided by United States law to authors of “original works of authorship,” including “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.” The owner of copyright in a work has the exclusive right to make copies, prepare derivative works, sell or distribute copies, and display the work publicly. Anyone else wishing to use the work in these ways must have the permission of the author or someone who has derived rights through the author.”
~ Copyright Registration for Pictorial, Graphic, and Sculptural Works

How is copyright granted?

“A work is automatically protected by copyright when it is created, that is, “fixed” in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. Neither registration in the Copyright Office nor publication is required for copyright protection. There are, however, certain advantages to registration, including establishment of a public record of the copyright claim.”
~ Copyright Registration for Pictorial, Graphic, and Sculptural Works

What is Fair Use?

‘Fair Use’ is the use of copyrighted material for the “purposes for which the reproduction may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.”
~ Title 17, United States Code

What is the Public Domain?

Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable.
~ Wikipedia, Public Domain

How does this apply to me?

The Visual Resources Association has identified the following six areas for fair use in an educational environment:

  • Preservation: Storing Images for Repeated Use in a Teaching Context; Transferring Images to New formats
  • Use of Images for Teaching Purposes
  • Use of Images 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*
    ~ Fair Use of Images for Teaching, Research, and Study

*Here at Macalester, all Honors projects are archived and posted in an online repository, so permissions are frequently needed. Click here for more information on honors projects.

Problems of Fair Use

While the use of the copyrighted material may be considered ‘fair’ based on the above criteria, the copyright holder may see otherwise and restrict use of the material. It is always better to ask for permission than to ask for forgiveness. Or worse, have to alter your work to remove something that has been contested.

How to ask for permission

Contact the copyright holder. A simple email explaining the requested use and a kind tone often will  do the trick. Most of the time, it is reasonably easy to determine who holds the copyright for something you want to use. Talk to a librarian or the Visual Resources Curator if you have questions.

For more information, please visit Macalester’s copyright page. The pages on attribution and credit and copyright resources may be of most interest.



The images used by the Visual Resources Library may be copyright protected under the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) and should be used for educational purposes only. Any other use is strictly prohibited.

Chat with us!

Ask a question!

chat loading...
Close Chat