Experts say academics are timid about fair use laws






Visual arts professionals, including art historians, let real and perceived fears about copyright law get in the way of their work, finds a new report from the College Art Association. And while the fundamentally visual nature of their discipline raises particular concerns among scholars of art, artists, editors and museum curators, experts say their fears are shared across academe -- although some disciplines have worked to develop codes to help scholars navigate the murky waters of fair use.

"The visual arts communities of practice share a common problem in their confusion about and misunderstanding of the nature of copyright law and the availability of fair use," reads the report, called "Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use Among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities." "Their work is constrained and censored, most powerfully by themselves, because of the confusion and the resulting fear and anxiety."

In addition to a lack of clarity of about what is fair use -- the section of copyright law allowing for non-licensed use of copyrighted material for commentary and other "transformative" purposes -- arts professionals fear the costs, in time and dollars, of seeking out permission for licensed use, the report says. (Note: This sentence has been updated from an earlier version.) It calls these anxieties part of a larger "permissions culture," in which there is a presumption that licensed use is necessary -- even when, in reality, there are many uses for which it is not....



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