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Can I Use this Image? Navigating Fair Use of Art in the Classroom

Updated: Jun 28, 2019

Using images of art in the classroom can be an exciting and enlightening way to get the students invested in the lesson. Like other forms of art such as music and literature, we need to make sure we can use the image in the lesson plan, also known as fair use. If the work of art is not explicitly labeled "public domain," we have to do a little more research to figure out if we can use it. Copyright law is murky as best, but we can go by some general guidelines below to stay aboveboard. According to copyright attorney Rich Stim, the key idea we need to be aware of is the concept of "transformative use," which in part means we are creating something new (knowledge) inspired by the artwork.


When looking through a museum collection's database, unfortunately there are circumstances when we cannot use the artwork for the lesson. In certain cases, it can be that the museum does not own rights to the work. This is usually due to the written stipulations at the time of acquisition. Email us if you have a question on the fair use of the SMA's collection. Check out the Spencer's database here for over 40,000 pieces of art!


Also, check out this video about how the Cleveland Museum of Art announced themselves as an Open Access institution, meaning you have access to use many of their 30,000 pieces.


Image Credit: The Art of Education - https://www.pinterest.com/theartofeducation/




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Website created by Sara Hancock Fiene, © 2017

Edited by Molly Nevius, © 2020

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