Blackwell Library
Holloway Hall

Requesting Permission to use Copyright-Protected Works

Copyright Symbol imageIt isn't always necessary to request permission from a copyright owner. Some materials cannot be protected. Others are no longer in copyright. Copyright protection doesn't last forever. Also, some copyright owners use Creative Commons licenses to spell out uses they will allow. In other cases, fair use can be invoked. Although Fair Use and the Teach Act provisions allow students and faculty to use some copyright-protected materials without asking the permission of the copyright holder or paying for that right, there are a number of instances when seeking permission is simply the best course of action. A few of those include

  • long-term use of materials placed on library reserve

  • long-term use of materials in multimedia creations, unless they (limited portions) are used in personal portfolios or for conference presentations

  • development of course packs that have a clear effect on the market

Obtaining permission is a three-step process:

  1. determine if the material is copyright protected (ineligible for protection or out of copyright)

  2. locate the copyright owner

  3. write a permission letter specifying the specific amount, exact uses, and length of use for any materials requested

The third step is relatively easy. The library has a permission form for placing student work in e-reserves. There are model forms/letters for other faculty requests. If they do not match the uses sought, a template is available to generate and then copy customize text departmental or personal letterhead. It is very important to secure permissions in writing and to keep them on file.

Locating a copyright owner or owners can be challenging. Copyrights can change hands and individual rights can be transferred to different people. A creator can retain print rights and sell digital rights. Some formats frequently involve more than one copyright owner (e.g., photographs of art works). Precisely because locating owners can be both time-consuming and unsuccessful, legislators continue to introduce legislation to allow some uses of materials (orphan works) after making reasonable attempts to find copyright owners. The bottom line is to be patient

Locating Copyright Owners & Owner Information

  • Examine the copyright notice carefully, as it identifies the copyright holder

  • Contact the creator - (use Amazon, Google, or Books in Print (on the library's web listing of available databases)

  • Contact the publisher (Rights Department)

  • Search Library of Congress records or pay for a search

  • Try author searches on the web or use library databases with biographical information (death dates)

  • Check genealogical and legal sources

  • Contact archivists responsible for collections of specific authors. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) issued "Orphan Works: Statement of best practices," a 16-page report that provides what professional archivists consider the best methods to use when attempting to identify and locate copyright holders.

  • Use an authors' society or a publication rights clearinghouse (see list below)

  • Use the Firms Out of Business Database for the names and addresses of copyright holders/contact persons for out-of-business publications/publishers

There are numerous organizations managing rights for artists and creators. A few follow. Additionally, two institutions maintain extensive lists:

Copyright Licensing Organizations & Publications Rights Clearinghouses

REMINDER: The fact that permission can be obtained does not imply a use is unfair. Effect on the market, while singularly important, is only one of four factors to weigh in a fair use analysis.