Fair Use Question of the Month: Online Databases for Students


Dear CMSI,

I teach a course about the history of abstract expressionist art. Over the years, I’ve collected an online database chock-full of high-res jpegs of Kandinsky, Pollock, Tobey, Hofmann and more for use in my lectures. I think that my students would greatly benefit from access to this database, but I’m afraid of getting in trouble from a copyright standpoint. If I shared that database with my students, would that be covered under fair use?




Dear Phillip,

Composition VIII. Wassily Kandinsky.

Composition VIII. Wassily Kandinsky.

It sounds like you’ve got a good case for it, but see and decide for yourself. Principle Two of the Code of Best Practice for Fair Use in the Visual Arts states that visual arts instructors using copyrighted material can be covered by fair use not only inside, but also outside of the classroom—within limitations that are important for you to consider. For instance, among other things your colleagues think that the materials you make available to students should be in service to your teaching goals, and that access should be restricted to your students. But check out all the limitations in Principle Two. If you find yourself meeting those with good faith, you’re well within your field’s expectations for employment of fair use.



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