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Copyright: Getting Permission

Getting Permission to Use a Copyrighted Work

Once you determine the need for permission (meaning your use doesn't qualify as Fair Use, and the work is not in the Public Domain or licensed for public use), don't be afraid to ask. Get organized and follow these steps:

1. Get the complete citation for the work(s) you want to use.

You will need all of this information in order to determine who holds copyright for the work.

2. Identify the rights holder.

The rights holder may be the original author or creator of the work, the publisher, or the creator's heirs. Many large rights owners, such as publishers and movie studios, post their rights clearance process on their websites.

First, look for copyright notice on the work, which usually looks like this: Copyright © 2014, John Doe. You may also be able to identify rights owners by searching the records of the U.S. Copyright Office or the database of the Copyright Clearance Center. (In the case of multiple owners, authors or creators you only need to secure the permission from one of the copyright holders.)

3. Prepare a letter requesting permission. 

There are no hard and fast rules for requesting permission, but it is generally a good idea to include the following information in your request:

  • A description of the work in which you hope to incorporate the copyrighted material (student report, doctoral dissertation, class presentation, etc.) and the date of its publication, creation or presentation.
  • The citation of the work you wish to use and relevant pages, portion or section.
  • A description of the rights you are requesting (how many copies you are making, or how big the audience size is, plus what formats you will use to represent the copyrighted  work).  Examples of sample permission letters are available from the resources listed in the right sidebar.
  • A place for the copyright owner to sign the letter indicating their willingness to grant your request for permission.

4. Be sure to secure the permission in writing.

A printed letter or an email is okay. 

5. Do not interpret the lack of a response to your request as a grant of permission.

If you are not successful in securing permission on your own, you may wish to consult one of the copyright licensing services, such as Copyright Clearance Center, for assistance.  These services may be fee-based and you may be expected to pay to license the work for your purpose.

Helpful Links:
Getting Permission