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While the copyright exemptions and institutional licensing will cover many of your needs, especially for research and instruction on campus, there will be times when you will need to request permission from the copyright owner directly. Permission might be required to republish material in a new book, post a copyrighted work in ScholarWorks or on an open website, or stream an entire motion picture for an online class.

To determine whether you will need permission start by asking the following questions:

  1. Is the work Public Domain?
  2. Is there a license already available for the use? (Institutional license, library subscription database, Creative Commons, etc.)
  3. Is the use Fair Use?
  4. Can I use an Educational Exemption?

If the answer is "no" to all of these questions, you may need to seek permission from the copyright holder.

Additional Resources

  • Map of Issues - From the University of Minnesota, this handy visual guide illustrates the main points which need to be considered when deciding whether you need permission or not.
  • Know Your Copy Rights: What You CAN Do - From the Association of Research Libraries, this brochure provides a quick overview of copyright and fair use as it applies in the classroom.

I need permission, what do I do now?

Identify the Owner

The permissions process usually starts with identifying the copyright owner. Sometimes this is as easy as looking at the copyright notice. At other times, it can be a little more complicated. Copyright can be transferred to heirs or signed over to others in a written contract. Sometimes copyright in a single work may be jointly owned by two or more people. The various rights can even be divided between different people. Media, such as images, sound recordings and video, present special challenges since this can involve multiple layers of ownership. A little bit of detective work may be necessary to identify and locate a copyright owner, especially for older material.

Registries and databases, such as the WATCH File, provide advice and other information which can help with identifying and locating copyright owners. The WATCH File is a database of names and contact information for copyright owners of works by authors and artists from the United States and Europe. CCC's database provides publication information and names the rights holder for the work. The copyright registration records from the US Copyright Office identify copyright claimants for a work. All are useful starting points for identifying potential copyright owners, but due to the complex nature of copyright ownership, additional research may be required to verify current copyright owners for a work.

Since copyright ownership can change, it is also important to verify that the person or organization you are contacting is actually the copyright owner and has the right to give you permission to use the work.

Locate the Owner

Once you have identified the copyright owner, you need to contact them for permission. Another seemingly straightforward task, this can be as simple as looking in the book or doing a quick search online. When information is not available from these methods, additional research may be required. Don't forget about more traditional reference sources, such as publisher directories like: Books In Print, Literary Marketplace, or Ulrich's Periodicals Directory, to name a few. Many of these resources are available via the University Library.

State Your Purpose

When requesting permission, include details that clearly identify the material being used, the amount you need, and the purpose of the use. It is important to be specific and include as many details as possible about what it is that you need to do. For example, if you want to reprint something in a new book that you are publishing, include details about the specific sections that you would like to reprint as well as the title and edition of the work that you are using. If you need to digitize something so that you can display it on your department website, you should ask for permission to both digitize the item AND to display the digitized copy online. If you need to use something more than once, you should state this as well since you will not have permission to use something more than once unless you have specifically requested to do so. In other words, getting permission once does not automatically mean you have permission to use the same material in a different context at a later time.

Get It In Writing

Permission may be given verbally or in writing, but obtaining written permission is recommended since it is easier to maintain a record of the nature and extent of the permission granted.

  • Copyright & Fair Use Center - Copyright Overview: From Stanford University, provides an introduction to the permissions process. Various sections address website permissions, academic & educational permissions, and releases. "Copyright Research" provides a very detailed look at researching copyright ownership of a work.
  • Copyright Crash Course- Getting Permission: From The University of Texas Austin, this page contains an extensive list of links to various collective rights organizations.
  • Getting Permission by Richard Stim: Berkeley, Ca.: Nolo, c2000. This ebook edition, available at the UTPA library, provides extensive details about obtaining permissions.
  • Online Books Page - Permission: By John Mark Ockerbloom, this site provides useful advice on locating copyright owners in order to obtain permission.
  • Requesting Permission: From the Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office, includes information on contacting rights owners, sample permissions letters, and links to collective rights organizations.


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