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D. Hiden Ramsey Library, University of North Carolina at Asheville

Art: Copyright

RESOURCES, including Books, Journals, Reference Materials, Film and Images related to the study of studio arts, art history, and crafts

Clearance for Fine Arts

The following organizations provide information on clearance for fine arts images:


Artist Rights Society (ARS)

Graphic Artists Guild (GAG)

Society of Illulstrators (SI)

Illustrators' Partnership of America (IPA)

Art in America magazine has an annual directory of artists and galleries that may be consulted.


The following site has been developed by the Association of Research Libraries for faculty and students who may have questions related to COPYRIGHT:

One of the most concise tools for checking on copyright rules and laws is the following chart developed by Peter Hirtle.        

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, by Peter Hirtle -- "begun as an expanded version of Lolly Gasaway's [NC] copyright chart, but with the primary focus on unpublished works. In this new version, the section on unpublished works has been updated to reflect copyright status as of 1 January 2004. A new section on the U.S. copyright status of works published outside of the U.S. has also been added. In order to facilitate printing, a PDF version of the file is available as well, and several new alternative copyright charts are listed..."       

Copyright issues can be difficult to understand for the novice user of images. Just because the image is available on the Internet does not give anyone free use of the image. Most of the images available from the world's museums are under copyright as are most of the images on the Web. The following Web sites contain information regarding copyright guidelines and copyright law that will be useful to those working in the arts.

Cetus: Fair use of Copyrighted Works 

Visual Resources Association [VRA]: Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, Fair Use 

The Essential Resources for Visual Resources Professionals  In the 'Mother of All Art and Art Hisotry Pages" from the Universtiy of Michigan

Also, carefully review the publication guidelines available in the leading journals in your field, as they will often spell-out the necessay guidelines for publication.  The ART JOURNAL and the ART BULLETIN,  the two periodicals published by the College Art Association are extremely useful as a baseline to consult when considering publishing an article about art.

The following comprehensive Web site created by Christine Sundt, University of Oregon is one of the best sources of information related to Art and Copyright:

When downloading information from a database, always check carefully to determine what copyright and fair use notices accompany the database and comply with those notices.

For example:   when using EndNote and Zotero

While it is easy to import references from onlinne databases and to store them on your personal computer, there may be prohibitions to doing so  by the producers of those online reference databases.  Or, the producers of the online information may restrict access and charge a fee for their services. Not all databases are the same and the restrictions may vary from database to database.  Look at the guidelines carefully and follow the common-sense guidelines to avoid charges of plagerism and violations of copyright.


Copyright Basics.
A 6 minute video copyright basics guide that is based in the workplace. Produced by the Copyright Clearance Center, the video "details how to share copyrighted material at work while still respecting the rights of content creators." 


Seeking Permission - Images

Tracking down copyright information for images can be difficult, however there are some specific steps you may take to determine if your image is under copyright ownership in the United States.  Be aware that copyright law can differ substantially from country to country.

When you know the artist or the photographer:

  • Contact the U.S. Copyright Office and search for the database of copyright registrations (available since 1975). Search does not allow subject searching and title or photographer/artist name MUST be used to search. http://www.copyright .gov . This site also contains good information on copright searching strategies and registering copyright.
  • Look at the metadata associated with the image (open an image browser, i.e. Adobe PhotoShop and look under "File" and go to "File Info")
  • If the original stock agency is know go directly to the agency or their successors.  They will contact the photographer for you or put you in direct touch with the artist or photographer.
  • Contact the publisher in whose work the art or photograph appears.
  • Use the artist/photographer registry available from the Professional Photographers of America (PPA)
  • Check the various stock photographer sites to see if the photographer's work is sold there.
  • Check photo-sharing sites such as Flicker and others for the photographer's name.
  • Search in institutions where the artist studied, worked, etc.
  • Try to locate the image using the subject matter and determine if the artist/photographer is mentioned.
  • For news-worthy images or historical images, try to locate newspaper sources in the geographical area where the image was taken. Newspapers may hold copyright or may put you in touch with the photographer/artist.

When you do not know the artist or the photographer:

  • Examine the art or photograph for clues to the origins. If the work appears in a magazine or in a book, contact the publisher or the author for information. If the image appears in a commercial environment, contact the corporation or company and locate the advertising agency that cleared the rights. Determine if it was a work for hire or if rights were purchased.
  • Use the Orphan Work search assistance of the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA).   E-mail them at :
  • Using any search engine go to various stock agencies and review their holdings by subject.

If none of these diligent efforts results in success in locating ownership, then consult legal counsel and determine what your risks will be if the image is used. Remember, permissions must be in writing or due diligence must be documented. If youwish to consult the most recent legislation regarding Orphan Works, consult the following site:  American Society of Media Photographers' at

Recently a new technology has been used to identify images on the web.  Called "TinEye" this image identification software by is remarkable, but works on the principle of a "reverse search.".

"TinEye is a reverse search engine.  You can submit an image to TinEye to find out where it came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or to find higher resolution versions. TinEye is the first image search engine on the web to use image identification technology rather than keywords, metadata or watermarks. For some real TinEye search examples, check out their Cool Searches page."



Permission to use most images is required unless the image is specifically determined to be PUBLIC DOMAIN.  Often it is said that Orphan Work (work in which the copyright is in question) can be used if "due diligence" is made to locate the artist/photographer/author/creator. 

BUT --- THERE IS NO CURRENT LEGISLATION THAT PERMITS THE USE OF A WORK IF THE OWNER CANNOT BE LOCATED AND ANY LEGISLATION WILL NOT BE RETROACTIVE. Therefore, even if you have made every attempt to locate the creator and were unsuccessful, your efforts (due diligence)are not sufficient defense in a claim of infringement by the owner or creator of a work of art, photograph, book, or other intellectual property.  According to the American Society of Picture Professionals,

"The copyright owner could seek monetary damages as well as an injunction to prevent tht future publication of the work in certain cirmcumstances. If the work is registered, the owner can also seek statutory damages and attorney's fees."

See the American Society of Picture Professionals  (ASPP) for additional information.

This is not intended to deter you from using images in your published work!  Images are critical to publishing in the arts. This is intended to raise your awareness of the need to exercise caution and common-sense in your use of images.

Library of Congress Images



When material form the Library of Congress collections is reproduced in a publication or website or otherwise distributed, the Library requests the courtesy of a credit line.

Ideally, the credit will include

  • reference to Library of Congress, and
  • the specific collection which includes the image, and
  • the image reproduction number (negative, transparency, or digital id number).

Such a credit furthers scholarship by helping researchers locate material and acknowledges the contribution made by the Library of Congress.

Wright Brothers collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-ppmsca-04598.

When space considerations preclude such a caption, shorter versions may be used.


  • Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-13459
  • LOC, LC-ppmsca-09756
  • Library of Congress, C4-2356