For those intrigued, perplexed or in need of a practical guide on how to deal with that beast known as the ‘fair use’ exception in US copyright law, look no further. The College Art Association, the professional body of those who work in art, art history and art criticism in the United States, has just released its long awaited Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts. This is the product of work that commenced in 2012 and continued on with a report released last year around this time.
The Code is geared towards those writing critically about art, those teaching about art, those creating art and those displaying art; it is sectioned out accordingly. The language and structure of the Code are accessible (barely a hint of legalese in the twenty-page document) and the take-home lesson is this: use copyrighted material with care… but not too much of it. And if you’re an artist, make sure you add your own spin on the work. Try to acknowledge the original creator too.
With the confusion that surrounds the infamous transformative use test under the fair use exception, as exemplified in the Prince v. Cariou appellate decision of 2013, the Code couldn’t have come at a better time. Many in the arts and art history fields in America will no doubt be happy to have some guidance. At least now they will have something to point at and say, “I was just following the Code!”