The Catholic University of America

Copyright and Digital Images

III. Visual Resources Association Guidelines

The Visual Resources Association (VRA) has published guidelines that were recently finalized and are available online.

The VRA guidelines recognize that certain educational disciplines, such as art and architecture in particular, are dependent upon visual images for teaching purposes. The guidelines try to strike a balance between the rights and concerns of artists, museums, galleries, vendors and other image providers, while acknowledging public domain rights and educational exemptions such as fair use.

When a university desires to develop a permanent archive of visual images, the VRA suggests purchasing, licensing or otherwise legally acquiring slides or digital files from museums, galleries, vendors and other image providers. Other sources may include original on-site photography produced for sale by skilled photographers, and digital files distributed on a free use basis by educational and professional institutions. Images purchased or licensed are subject to the conditions specified at the time of purchase or according to the licensing agreement. Gifts and donations may be subject to further restrictions imposed by the donors. It is recommended that donors of original photographic images be encouraged to grant in writing to the institution discretionary rights as to use of the image, including digitizing.

To the extent the permanent archive contains material created by copystand photography1 or scanning from published materials, the following considerations should be met before placing the images in the permanent archive. Meeting these conditions will provide support for the argument that the use of the images is a fair use under copyright law. The considerations are as follows:

  • Images of suitable quality are not readily available at a reasonable cost and in a reasonable time from a museum, gallery, vendor or other image provider.

  • Images will not be shared between or among other educational institutions if such use is prohibited by the terms of their acquisition.

  • Images will be used for comment, criticism, review, analysis, discussion, or other similar purpose associated with instruction or scholarship.

  • Images will be used for purposes that are both nonprofit and educational.

  • Images will be placed on a restricted Web site.

These restrictions do not apply to images that are in the public domain.

To the extent possible, the VRA recommends that all images acquired for the permanent archive of an educational institution should be identified by source of image, year of acquisition, and in the case of a purchased or licensed image, the provider's inventory or identifying number or code.

1 A "copystand" is equipment designed to hold and illuminate an object (two- or three-dimensional) for the purpose of photographic reproduction. The term "copystand photography" is used here to refer to the standard practice of photographic reproduction from published materials for educational purposes, generally accomplished with the aid of copystand equipment.


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