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The copyright of a work of art automatically belongs to the creator. Even if the physical piece of art is sold to another person, copyright does not transfer. This means the new owner can only display the work of art, but cannot take pictures of it and reuse them online, in a print work, or in any other form. If the rights holder allows a digital image of their art to be viewable online, this does not mean the viewer can download and use the digital file. In addition, photographs of 3-D art and architecture will have different rights associated with them than the original structure.
How long does copyright last?
This is a complicated subject, but a simplified answer (for the US) is:
For works published after 1977, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
Works published after 1923, but before 1978, are protected for 95 years from the date of publication.
Works published in the United States before 1924 are in the public domain.
What is the public domain?
Works in the public domain are free for anyone to use or reuse in whatever way they'd like, with no requirement to cite. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it. Older works are in the public domain because their copyright has expired. Copyright holders can also purposely put their work in the public domain to allow others to use it freely.
What is fair use?
Fair use permits limited use of copyrighted works without having to acquire permission from the rights holder. There are no firm answers about what constitutes fair use; rather, it is decided on a case-by-case basis by evaluating the following four factors:
Purpose and character of use - this includes whether something is for nonprofit educational use versus commercial use, as well as whether the use is transformative. Educational reuses are more likely to be ruled fair use, as is if the reuse substantially changes the original.
Nature of the copyrighted work - this includes whether something is fiction versus non-fiction, as well as whether the original is published. Reuse of a non-fiction, factual work is more likely to be ruled fair use, as is reuse of an already published work (since the author was able to control the first public appearance).
Amount and substantiality of use - this covers how much of the original work was reused, or how substantial the reused portion is. For example, if the most well-known part of a work is reused, it may not be considered fair use, even if it is a small percentage of the whole.
Effect on the work's value - this covers whether the reuse will do commercial harm to the original.