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Visual Literacy: Fair Use & Public Domain

A guide to help you locate and cite images & media, and understand copyright & fair use.

Fair Use Doctrine

Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act outlines four factors in evaluating fair use of material.

  1. Purpose and character of the use (commercial vs nonprofit or educational)
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used 
  4. Effect of the use upon the market or value of the copyrighted work

More information on fair use from the U.S. Copyright Office

Fair Use Resources

Permissions and Reuse Resources

To reuse copyrighted material (such as images or text excerpts) you will need to request and obtain written permission from the publisher or author/creator.

Public Domain

Public domain is a designation for content that is not protected by any copyright law or other restriction and may be freely copied, shared, altered and republished by anyone. There are four common ways that an item will arrive in the public domain.

  1. The copyright has expired
  2. The copyright owner failed to renew copyright
  3. Copyright owner places the item in the public domain
  4. Copyright law does not protect the type of work created

More information on public domain from Stanford University Libraries

What is the Public Domain?

"What is Public Domain?" YouTube, uploaded by U.S. Copyright Office, 18 December 2019,

Public Domain Resources