Fair Use Question of the Month: Photos for Art Installation

by Mayra Linares

TwiggyphotoBlogQuestionDear CMSI,

As an artist, I want to use photos of models, including the famous ‘60s model Twiggy, to explore our definitions of feminine beauty, in an installation. Do I need to license the images? Should I stick to images of models who are not well known? I’m pulling stuff off the Internet.

Thank you,

Ximena S.

Dear Ximena,

Your project sounds fantastic! This is a great time to be asking yourself about copyright issues; thinking it through now will help you get out your work later. Check out the Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in the Visual Arts, created by peers in your field. Principle three focuses on the creation of art. It asserts your right to employ fair use in making art, and provides four conditions or limitations that will put you squarely in the comfort zone for applying fair use. Think about each of these limitations, in relation to your own artistic project. If you operate within these limitations, you should not be worried about using images of famous people for your installation. The source doesn’t matter for these limitations; the Internet is just as full of copyrighted material as anything else.

One note: stock photography is offered to the public for sale for any purpose they like, and so is unlikely to be eligible for fair use for your art. But images drawn from newspapers, magazines, fashion websites, videos or other work created for a different purpose than yours would likely be eligible. This is because you have a transformative purpose in using images of models for an artistic installation for which you can articulate an artistic rationale. You don’t need to change the image itself to have it be a transformative purpose, and you might have an argument for using an entire copyrighted work (such as a photo of a particular model) for that transformative purpose.


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