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Finding and Using Images

SIA New York Library Guide
Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889. Digital images courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.
Creative Commons License
The information in this section is adapted and expanded from "Enabling and Developing Teaching Tools" licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University with attribution to Dr. Kenneth D. Crews (formerly of Columbia University).

Images in Canvas

Using a course website or a university-supported Learning Management System (LMS), such as Canvas, to make instructional materials available to students can raise many copyright issues. These systems can be used to provide a wide range of materials, from articles and book chapters to sound recordings and visual images. However, such materials may be posted and shared only in a manner consistent with copyright law, which gives legal protection to nearly all text, images, audiovisual recordings, and other materials, whether available on the Internet or in any other medium.

Instructional materials may be posted to a LMS or a course website under any of the following circumstances.

  • The faculty member is the owner of the copyright in the material, or
  • The material is made available by linking rather than copying, or
  • The copyright owner of the material grants permission, or
  • The material is in the public domain, or
  • The use is within fair use under the law or another statutory exception.

Images for Publication

Images in the SIA Libraries' licensed databases may be used for educational purposes only: teaching, lectures at scholarly institutions, class papers and presentations, educational websites restricted to SIA users. Images may not be used for publication unless copyright has been cleared or public domain status has been verified. Works employed in a classroom setting generally fall under fair use.

Showing Film & Media

Showing or “performing” a motion picture at the institute can be important for teaching, but the performance must be made in compliance with copyright law. One of the rights of the copyright owner in the film is the right to make a “public performance” of it. Therefore, the performance of a copyrighted film must be made only with permission from the copyright owner or consistent with one of the exceptions or limitations in the copyright law.

Nevertheless, copyright law includes several possibilities for properly showing copyrighted audiovisual works.

Some DVDs in the library collection have been purchased with educational rights. You can search the library catalog for

Keyword -- educational rights + Location -- New York Library + Collections -- Multimedia

Allowed: Performing a work privately, and not publicly

A performance may not be “public” if the place is closed to the public, and the audience is not a “substantial” number of persons. Therefore:

  • The smaller the viewing group, the less likely it will be a public performance.

  • Gathering a large group of friends or using a common room in a residence hall can make the performance “public."

  • Open invitations and announcements to the public can make a performance “public.”
Allowed: Performing a work that is in the public domain

Copyright protection does not last forever, and when the copyright has expired, the work may be used without copyright restriction. For example, any work published in the U.S. before 1923 is in the public domain and may be used freely.


Allowed: Performing a work created by the U.S. government

Works created by the federal government are not protected by copyright and are in the public domain. However, works commissioned by the federal government may have copyright protection. Also, works produced by state, local, or foreign governments may have copyright protection. Federal government works in the public domain could include many military films and NASA space exploration footage.


Allowed: Performing a work within the limits of fair use

The law of fair use provides an exception to the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. For more information concerning the law of fair use, please see Fair Use under the Copyright & Permissions Tab. In most situations, fair use requires careful application and judgment calls; consequently, the other opportunities outlined above are usually preferable to undertaking an analysis of fair use.

Creative Commons License
All Library Guides by Sotheby's Institute of Art New York Library are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 3rd-party content including, but not limited to images and linked items, are subject to their own license terms.