Fair Use: Album Cover Art

Album cover art is used in posts and on pages discussing particular songs or albums under the doctrine of Fair Use as set forth in United States Copyright Law.

The reasoning behind claiming Fair Use is as follows:

  1. Purpose and character of the use: Throughout this website, album cover art is used to identify a particular album or song in the overall context of critical commentary. In a post about a song or album, the album cover art accompanies the post’s commentary about the song. It helps the reader quickly identify the song or album based on its recognizable visual representation. Album cover art is always presented in much lower resolution than the original artwork, and cannot, in the format herein presented, be viewed at high resolution like the original artwork. Thus, it is considered “transformative” and therefore qualifies as fair use. [1]
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work: Original artwork for album covers is intended to help identify and sell albums for the financial gain of the artist(s) involved. Because the album cover reproductions used on this website are of significantly-reduced resolution as compared to the originals, they cannot be used in any way that competes with the original artwork.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: The album cover art presented on this website typically shows the entire cover, because a smaller portion of the cover would not be sufficient to properly identify the song or album for purposes of critical commentary. In Kelly vs. Arriba Soft Corporation (2003), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found this type of use to be “reasonable and necessary in light of the intended use”. [1]
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work: Because of the low resolution of the album cover art used within this website, it in no way creates a negative impact on the potential market for or value of the original artwork. In fact, because the sole purpose of the original artwork was to sell albums, and was not intended to be marketed separately from the album, and because the use of the low-resolution reproductions of album artwork herein has no possible negative impact on the sales of their related albums, the effect on the original artwork’s potential market is somewhere between non-existent and negligible.

By applying these four “fair use tests”, it is hereby determined that the use of low-resolution reproductions of album cover art within this website is in keeping with the doctrine of fair use and does not constitute copyright infringement.
Paul O'Rear Signature


  1. Wikipedia contributors, “Fair use,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use#Fair_use_on_the_Internet (accessed April 15, 2012).