Fair Use Question of the Month: Library Exhibits Online
This month's fair use question comes from a university librarian who wants to create an online exhibit to showcase part of the library's permanent collections.
Dear Center for Social Media,
Our university library has a wonderful collection of early 20th century photography, and we would like to create a permanent online exhibit featuring the collection. Can I put those photos online on an open website?
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Congratulations on thinking about how best to serve your patrons--indeed, library websites have become important modes of access for library patrons, and most temporary physical exhibitions now have permanent virtual counterparts. Digital shouldn't scare you--these uses can be just as fair as their physical counterparts.
Exhibition and related illustrative uses, whether physical or virtual, can be transformative,and fair use can enable librarians to act in ways that other, more limited exemptions might not. Exhibits typically highlight and publicize library collections and stimulate interest in individual works they showcase. With their contextualization, they place original works in a new context. (The letter to a famous person that you include wasn't written in order to illuminate that period in her life; that's your recontextualization.)
According to Principle Two of The Code of Best Practices for Academic and Research Libraries,
"It is fair use for a library to use appropriate selections from collection materials to increase public awareness and engagement with these collections and to promote new scholarship drawing on them. The amount of any particular work used and the format in which it is displayed should be appropriate to the illustrative purpose, i.e., tailored to support the goals of the exhibit or other illustrative project. The use of a work (other than a single image) in its entirety is likely to require a special level of justification. Similarly, larger-scale, high-resolution images should be displayed only when appropriate to the pedagogical or illustrative purpose of the exhibit. Full attribution, in a form satisfactory to scholars in the field, should be provided for each work included or excerpted in an exhibit, to the extent it can be determined with reasonable effort."
You can check out some examples of online exhibits at Jacob's Pillow Dance Interactive and MIT's Institute Archives & Special Collections For more help with fair use, look at some of our other fair use resources on the site, like So you have a fair use question? or Reclaiming Fair Use. Good luck with your project!
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