Disclaimer: This page is intended only to provide general information on copyright, and should not be cited in defense of any particular use of protected works or images. Always consult a copyright professional if you have questions.
Use of Images
All images in the Visual Resources Center are subject to copyright law. These images are intended solely for purposes of teaching, scholarship, and research at the University of Delaware, and may not be used for any commercial purposes. Images in the Visual Resources Center may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, or likewise. It is the sole responsibility of the user to secure any and all permissions from the appropriate copyright owners before publishing an image or using it in anything but a nonprofit, educational capacity. The Visual Resources Center does not own the copyright to any of the materials in its collection, and cannot grant any requests for permission to reproduce these materials.
Intellectual Property and Copyright
Like an author's book, an artist's work of art (e.g., painting, sculpture, photograph) is considered the intellectual property of the person who created it. Copyright is a legal means of protecting a person's intellectual property from unauthorized use by others. Copyright can apply to the work of art itself, but also to a photographic reproduction of that work of art, as well as to a book in which that photographic reproduction is published.
United States Copyright Law
The protection of intellectual property under United States law is authorized in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution. Today, Title 17 of the United States Code defines exactly what qualifies for copyright protection, and stipulates how long that protection will last before a work eventually passes into the "public domain."
Copyright protection extends for a fixed number of years after either the creation of a work, the publication of a work, or the death of the artist or author, depending on the case. Under current law, copyright on works of art created by a known artist generally expires 70 years after the artist's death. Whenever the artist's death date cannot be established (either the artist is unknown or a corporate body is considered to be the artist), works are covered for 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever comes first.
Architectural works (i.e., buildings) completed before 1990 are not typically protected by copyright. However, an architect's drawings are treated as works of art, and would therefore be protected for 70 years after the architect's death. Architectural works completed in 1990 or later are generally protected by copyright. However, if a copyrighted architectural work is in a public place, you are permitted to photograph it without infringing upon the architect's copyright.
United States Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 on Intellectual Property Rights), National Archives
United States Copyright Law (17 U.S.C.), United States Copyright Office
Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, Cornell University
Works that are no longer protected by copyright are said to be in the public domain. Most works made prior to the 20th century fall into this category. Anyone may freely reproduce public domain works.
However, even if a work of art is itself in the public domain, a given photographic image of it may not be. Unless you yourself made the photograph of the public domain work in person, an image of that work is probably copyrighted by someone else. Professional photographers, museums, and publishers usually require permission (and often a fee) before you can reproduce their images of public domain works from sources like websites or books.
Copyrighted materials are permitted in the Visual Resources Center because of the "fair use" limitation to copyright protection, which allows them to be used for purposes that are non-commercial and educational in nature. Because of fair use, instructors may show these images in the classroom, and students may use them to illustrate their own class assignments. However, publishing these images in a book or posting them on an unrestricted website is not considered fair use.
United States Law on Fair Use (17 U.S.C. § 107), United States Copyright Office
United States Copyright Office Fair Use Index, United States Copyright Office
Statement on the Fair Use of Images for Teaching, Research, and Study, Visual Resources Association
Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities: An Issues Report, College Art Association
Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts, College Art Association
Further Information on Copyright
United States Copyright Office, Library of Congress
Intellectual Property Guide, University of Delaware
Research Guide to Copyright, University of Delaware Library
Copyright Checkpoint, Artstor
Copyright Advisory Services, Columbia University
Copyright and Fair Use, Stanford University Libraries
Copyright Crash Course, University of Texas Libraries
Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School
About the Images on this Website
All of the images on the Visual Resources Center's web pages come from
Open Access collections.