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across the U.S. There is rights information attached to each item, and there’s lots to explore – photographs, maps, historical documents, advertisements, political cartoons, pamphlets, and more.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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One Response to Fair use and the public domain

  1. Pingback: Trendswatch and Open Data You Can Use | Brain Popcorn

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