Publicly learning my lesson about properly using digital images from

As per my last post, I just finished a Renaissance Photoshop art project with 6th graders where we located digital images of Renaissance paintings from ARTstor‘s online digital gallery and then used Photoshop to layer themselves into the painting. During the course of the 3-day project, we had discussions about copyright, fair use, and public domain. We talked about how the Mona Lisa and all the other works we were altering are in the public domain, and our contributions to the original paintings were copyrightable.

I said that there were two possible hiccups preventing us from going forth and copyrighting our art: Our digital images of the paintings came from, and the hardware/software we used is owned by Columbia University. Because I hate being ignorant and I love being right, I contacted ARTstor to find out if we could convince ourselves that we owned our altered image. I spoke to Cassy Juhl, a User Services Associate, who conferred with ARTstor’s lawyers and emailed me a few days later. Essentially, we can access/view/use images from ARTstor for academic and non-commercial purposes because Columbia University subscribes to their service. However, since ARTstor does not own the images in their digital collection, they can’t authorize manipulation of the files. I reminded the kids that ignorance is a terrible excuse for doing something unethical; Since we now know that we can’t use ARTstor’s images for this project, we cannot further ignore and abuse their Terms and Conditions of Use.

So, my latest idea is to generate our own collection of digital images of works of art at The School at Columbia University. Tons of museums allow no-flash photography, so I (or my students) can just gather our own photos of public domain art that we can then freely alter. As per the Mona Lisa, I’ll either have to elbow through the throngs of tourists at The Louvre this summer to take the best possible photo of her or establish a contact that can offer us a fair use copy.

Below is Cassy’s response that I shared with my 6th graders:

Dear Karen,
Thank you for your phone call.  After looking into your question regarding ownership of an altered image and I have a response for you. The ARTstor Terms and Conditions of Use ( ) prohibit the modification of ARTstor images.
Specifically, see Section 6:

Prohibited Uses. You may not: (a) use the ARTstor Digital Library, or use, display or make performances with, reproduce, or distribute Content from the ARTstor Digital Library, for any commercial purpose whatsoever, including but not limited to fee-for-service use of the ARTstor Digital Library, or make any use, display, performance, reproduction, or distribution that exceeds or violates these Terms and Conditions of Use; (b) distribute and/or make available Content in the ARTstor Digital Library to persons other than as expressly permitted herein; (c) provide and/or authorize access to the ARTstor electronic database, such as through the sharing of passwords, to persons or entities other than Authorized Users; (d) download or print, or attempt to download or print, substantial portions of the ARTstor Digital Library; (e) incorporate Content into print or electronic materials that are for purchase or are disseminated for commercial purposes (such as by a scholarly or commercial press); (f) use (including reproduce, distribute, display or make performances of) the ARTstor Digital Library in any way that is not authorized under this Agreement and that infringes another’s Intellectual Property Rights therein; (g) make any adaptation or modification of, or any derivative work from, Content; or (h) attempt to override, circumvent, or disable any encryption features or software protections employed in the ARTstor Digital Library.

ARTstor does not own any of the images in the Digital Library and as such we are unable to broker rights for said images.  We are only able to offer high quality images because our contributors provide images to be used for the very specific uses outlined in our Terms and Conditions of Use.
Please feel free to contact us with any further questions or concerns.
Kind regards,
Cassy Juhl
Cassy Juhl
User Services Associate


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5 responses to “Publicly learning my lesson about properly using digital images from

  1. arvind s grover

    Karen, I’d say that ARTstor may not be totally correct here. For one, I’d check section 5, “permitted uses.” That seems to have a lot of info about how students can use the works, and you might be in the green area, there.Also, there are many public domain captures of famous works of art, like this one of the Mona Lisa that you can use and even catalog in your own database. (note: though I’d rather go see it in person, again, too) think you are right to help students wade through this. I also think they should consider lobbying their elected representatives because it is almost insane that a student can’t make an art project out of an existing image of another art project.


  2. Karen Blumberg

    @arvind Thanks much for the comment! All those Permitted Uses from Section 5 are moot, since their assignment was to manipulate the original artwork, which is expressly prohibited in Section 6.Section 5:Permitted Uses. You may access, use, display, make performances with, reproduce and distribute the Content in the ARTstor Digital Library, provided you abide by the access and distribution restrictions in section 4, for the following Permitted Uses only: (a) classroom instruction and related classroom activities; (b) student assignments and research; (c) research activities of faculty, scholars, and curators; (d) public display or public performance as part of a noncommercial scholarly or educational presentation, such as in an educational, cultural, or scholarly seminar, class, lecture, conference, exhibit, or workshop, or a similar noncommercial professional activity, if such use conforms to the customary and usual practice in the field; (e) use in a student, faculty, or curatorial portfolio, including non-public display thereof, if such use conforms to the customary and usual practice in the field; (f) use in research or a dissertation, including reproductions of the dissertation, provided such reproductions are only for personal use, library deposit, and/or use solely withinthe institution(s) with which you and/or your faculty or curatorial readers are affiliated (collectively “Permitted Uses”).I totally appreciate your link to the Wikimedia Commons images of Mona Lisa, and I love the disclaimer at the bottom:The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that “faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain, and that claims to the contrary represent an assault on the very concept of a public domain”. For details, see Commons: When to use the PD-Art tag.This photographic reproduction is therefore also considered to be in the public domain.Can’t wait to share this with the kids as well! Thanks again!!!


  3. arvind s grover

    21. Fair Use, Educational, and Other Exceptions to Copyright Laws. Nothing in this Agreement should be construed or interpreted to limit those uses of Content printed or exported from the ARTstor Digital Library that are permitted under the fair use, educational exceptions, or other provisions to the copyright laws or other intellectual property right laws in the US or in other countries, but you make such uses at your own risk.


  4. arvind s grover

    Somehow my comment about Fair Use didn’t post along with the paste of section 21 of their agreement above. I would say that you have many fair use claims that could apply here. No matter the policy of ARTStor, as they say, when fair use applies, it applies. Now, figuring out when it applies? That’s difficult. Involve your librarian in the discussion.


  5. Karen Blumberg

    @arvind totally sound advice as usual thank you! 🙂


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