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ART: Subject Guide

Research help and resource suggestions for research in art.

In This Section

In this section, you'll find:

  • Information about copyright concerns for using images, including
    • Public domain
    • Fair use


Disclaimer: This guide is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice.

Public Domain

What is the Public Domain

“The public domain is the realm of material — ideas, images, sounds, discoveries, facts, texts — that is unprotected by intellectual property rights and free for all to use or build upon. It includes our collective cultural and scientific heritage, and the raw materials for future expression, research, democratic dialogue and education.” 

(Source: Duke University Center for the Study of the Public Domain)

As of January 1, 2020, all works published in the United States before 1924 are in the Public Domain.

Public domain means a creative work is NOT protected by copyright and may be used freely without permission.

Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

“In any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.”

(Source: Standard University Libraries Copyright & Fair Use)

Fair Use allows the use of portions of copyrighted creative work in educational settings without first obtaining permission for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

Is it Fair Use?

Purpose of Use: Nonprofit, educational, scholarly or research use 

Transformative use: repurposing, recontextualizing, creating a new purpose or meaning

Nature or Type of Work: Published, fact-based content

Amount Used: Using only the amount needed for a given purpose; Using small or less significant amounts

Market Effect: If there would be no effect, or it is not possible to obtain permission to use the work


Information for this guide was adapted with permission from Lesley University Library and Washburn University Libraries.