Fair Use Question of the Month: Placing Copyrighted Material On Display in a Public Exhibition
Posted by Bryan Bello on September 26, 2012
In this month's fair use question a librarian looks for insight on displaying a library's archive of movie posters in a public exhibition.
Dear Center for Social Media,
I'm a librarian in charge of public outreach and event planning at a small university in Los Angeles. Over the years we have amassed a substantial catalogue of stunning original print movie posters. Most impressive is our collection of posters from the science fiction era of the 1950's and 60's. Obviously, we don't hold copyright to any of them. We want to showcase these posters within a larger exhibit exploring historical perceptions of future technology. We don't often do large exhibits but really want to reach out to a larger audience for this one. Do we need to track down the copyright holders for the posters? If we use them, we will be using the whole thing (again, obviously).
Thanks for your time,
Way to really explore your fair use options as an academic librarian! We understand that the need for libraries to continually reach out to their respective communities in new and exciting ways is absolutely vital. Luckily the Association for Research Libraries, along with AU's Washington College of Law and its Center for Social Media have published "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries." The code, among other things, discusses how fair use applies to exhibits (whether digital or physical). As always, fair use hinges on having a transformative purpose and using an appropriate amount. Fair use applies for use of collection materials "to increase public awareness and engagement with these collections and to promote new scholarship draw on them." There are limitations on that fair use right, among them the amount of a particular work used. The amount should be "appropriate to the illustrative purpose, i.e. tailored to support the goals of the exhibit." In your case, you should make clear to yourself and to others how the use of the entire posters is appropriate to support the goals of the exhibit. Among the code's listed enhancements to further strengthen a fair use argument, for instance, is "when curation is overt and visible rather than implicit--for instance, when commentary is being provided on the illustrative objects..." (Do read the entire section! I'm just giving you the highlights!) You are, according to your description, using them within a focus on how future technology has been represented in the past, so you have plenty of opportunities to provide context for those fascinating objects.
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