Fair use and the public domain

I hope everyone is celebrating Fair Use Week! Linda wrote an excellent post, explaining in plain English what the “fair use doctrine” is and why it’s important (with fun examples like Andy Warhol and Weird Al). Copyright law protects copyright holders – creators like individual authors and artists, as well as big companies like Disney – but fair use is built into copyright so that non-copyright holders can still use parts of copyrighted works in certain cases, ideally without being sued from here to the moon.

Note: Copyright has expired for all works published in the U.S. before 1923. These items are in the public domain.

However, if you want to play it really safe, there are plenty of images (and other materials) for which the copyright term has expired; these things are in the public domain, meaning anyone can use them. Here are a number of treasure troves of public domain or Creative Commons (CC) licensed materials.

There are plenty of search engines that will let you filter for public domain or CC-licensed materials, including Google Images, Flickr, Open Clip Art, WikiMedia Commons, and others. For example, I searched Flickr for CC-licensed images of “cats,” and found this cute sleeping tabby from user Trish Hamme:

This kitty's dreams are free of copyright lawsuits.

This kitty’s dreams are free of copyright lawsuits.

For images of fine art, there are lots of options. One is Europeana, where users are encouraged to browse the collections of Europe’s museums. Each item has copyright information about how it can be used.

"Public Domain marked" means this image is in the public domain, to the best of Europeana's knowledge.

“Public Domain marked” means this image is in the public domain, to the best of Europeana’s knowledge.

You can also search the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and use images from there; there’s an easy checkbox to limit your search to public domain images only.

LACMA-publicdomainThe Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is a searchable database of items belonging to many museum, library, and historical collections across the U.S. There is rights information attached to each item, and there’s lots to explore – photographs, maps, historical documents, advertisements, political cartoons, pamphlets, and more.

The racehorse Man-O-War, photograph by Brown Brothers, from the New York Public Library digital collection, discovered through DPLA

The racehorse Man-O-War, photograph by Brown Brothers, from the New York Public Library digital collection, discovered through DPLA

If you’re looking for words instead of pictures, visit the Internet Archive’s Project Gutenberg to get the text of out-of-copyright works such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

When in doubt, remember the fair use fundamentals [PDF], and always cite your sources. Citation – providing the creator’s name and a link back to the original source – demonstrates good faith.

Citation was also a racehorse.

The racehorse Citation. Image from Wikipedia.

The racehorse Citation. Image from Wikipedia.


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It’s Fair Use Week


Vegetarian Vegetable from Campbell’s Soup II by Andy Warhol.

Have you ever photocopied an article for a research paper, viewed Andy Warhol’s art, listened to the music of Weird Al Yankovic, or watched The Daily Show? None of those things would be possible without the fair use doctrine.

You are probably familiar with the basic principles of copyright law. The creators of works like books, music, and art own the rights to those works. This means that, for example, we can’t all make copies of a popular book and sell them and make a ton of money for ourselves. We would be profiting from work we didn’t do, which is unfair, but also there would be no incentive for the author to write more great books.  Makes sense, right?

However, there are times when it also makes sense to use pieces of existing works in different ways and that’s where the doctrine of fair use comes in. For instance, because of fair use we can quote a few lines from a book in a review, record a tv show to watch later, create a parody, or copy a computer program in order to develop another program that works with it. These are limits to copyright law that are necessary to ensure continued creativity and innovation.

How do you know if what you want to do is covered under fair use? There are four factors to take into account:


Weird Al Yankovic

  • the purpose and character of the use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used
  • the effect of the use on the market or potential market

This is a balancing test, and all four factors must be considered. It’s nuanced, not scientific, and a frequently cited fifth factor is that of good faith. For more of an explanation of the four factors, see this great explanation from Stanford University. For those of you looking for a quick overview of fair use, there’s a simple infographic here. See the official Fair Use Week site for more information, resources, and news.

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Queer Book Group gets Carsick, together, on 2/25/15.


It’s been a while, friends.  Let’s talk about John Waters’ book, Carsick, tomorrow at 7 PM.  We’ve also got some housekeeping to do, which includes picking the next three books, and planning the March event.

See you there!

Wed., Feb. 25 / 7 PM/ 4th Floor Conference Room / Arlington, MA


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Next Not-So-Young Adult Book Group

chocolatewarFor next month the NSYA Book Group will be reading The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. Here’s a description:

“Jerry Renault ponders the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare disturb the universe? Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity school fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do. But when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now the only question is: Who will survive? First published in 1974, Robert Cormier’s groundbreaking novel, an unflinching portrait of corruption and cruelty, has become a modern classic.”

We’ll be meeting on Tuesday, March 17 at 7pm in the Robbins Library Conference Room.

That evening we’ll also be voting on some future titles, so if you have suggestions please comment below or bring them to the meeting and we’ll add them to our suggestion list.

The Not-So-Young Adult Book Group is a group for adults in which we read and discuss books written for teens. Our meetings are casual and friendly and newcomers are always welcome!

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Library to co-sponsor Unequal Justice panel on 2/28

The timely and important topic of inequities in our criminal justice system as they relate to race and class will be the focus of a program in the Arlington Town Hall organized by the town’s Vision 2020 Diversity Task Group. The free event is on Saturday evening, February 28. All are welcome to this panel discussion and community conversation.

The goal of “Unequal Justice: Consequences of Race and Class in Our Criminal Justice System” is to provide information about the inequities of the justice system and ideas for what might be done to improve it. While on paper the law is “equal” for all races and classes, race and class are often critical factors in the actual practice of law. The event is co-sponsored by twenty-two local Arlington organizations and congregations.

scalesThe Robbins Library will also co-sponsor this program.

Panelists include Fred Ryan, Arlington Police Chief; Peniel Joseph, Tufts University civil rights historian; Frank Rudy Cooper, Suffolk Law School Professor specializing in race and masculinity, and Don Perry, parole reform activist. The panel will be introduced by Bonie Bagchi Williamson, Co-chair of the Vision 2020 Diversity Task Group, and moderated by David Whitford, editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The program starts at 7:00 p.m. Refreshments will be available.

“We expect that the program will be an eye-opener for many people,” said Bonie Bagchi Williamson, Ph.D., Co-chair of the Diversity Task Group.

The Vision 2020 Diversity Task Group works to make Arlington a welcoming community for all who live, work or spend time in the town. For more information, contact Vision 2020 Diversity Task Group member Miriam Stein at miriam.stein@comcast.net or 781-648-0255.

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Survival / Adventure tales to chill with this winter

Take a break from endless snow.  Escape with some wintry tales and maybe a fireplace.                                 Robbins Library can provide books to chill with***

images                       * * * * * * * * * * * *

Above All Things by Tanis Rideout, 2013          FIC RIDEOUT, T

Alone in Antarctica: the first woman to ski solo across the southern ice by Felicity Thayer, 2014  919.8904 AST      

Alone on the Ice: the greatest survival story in the history of Exploration by David Roberts, 2013     919.89 ROB                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Antarctica: An intimate portrait of the world’s most mysterious continent by Gabrielle Walker,  2013    919.89 WAL 

Buried in the sky: the extraordinary story of the Sherpa climbers on K2’s deadliest day by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan, 2012       796.522 ZUC

Following Atticus:  Forty-eight high peaks, one small dog, and an extraordinary friendship by Tom Ryan, 2011   B  RYAN, T.

Frozen in Time: An epic story of survival, and a modern quest for lost heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff, 2014     940.5449 ZUC

In the Kingdom of Ice: The grand and terrible polar voyage of the USS Jeanette by Hampton Sides, 2014   910.452 SID

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, c1996   B McCandless, C.

Into Thin Air: A personal account of the Mount Everest disaster, by Jon Krakauer, 1997  796.522 KRA 

Last Season by Eric Blehm, 2006     333.782 BLE

Murder on the Appalachian Trail by Jess Carr, 1984    FIC CARR, J.  

Polar Dream: Heroic saga of the first solo expedition by a woman and her dog to the magnetic North Pole  by Helen Thayer, 1995   MLN-owned, can be reserved

South: The Endurance expedition by Ernest Shackleton                                                   MLN-owned, can be reserved

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, 1988   B SIMPSON, J.

 Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, 2012 B Strayed, C.


The Endurance -Shackleton's historic icebound Antarctic  ship

The Endurance -Shackleton’s historic icebound Antarctic ship








Stay warm…








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Not-So-Young Adult Book Group Meets 2/17

172hoursonthemoonIt is really time to get out of the house and do something fun, like talk about young adult books!

The NSYA Book Group is meeting next Tuesday night at 7pm in the Robbins Library Conference Room to talk about 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad. 

There are still plenty of copies being held at the Circulation Desk, so you still have time to pick one up. Act now to catch the library open between snowstorms!

See you all (hopefully) next week!

The Not-So-Young Adult Book Group is a group for adults in which we read and discuss books written for teens. 

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