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Basics of Getting Permission

First, ask yourself:

  • Is the work you want to use is currently protected by copyright rather than in the public domain or already licensed for your use (which would mean you do not need permission)?   You can review the basics on our Copyright Home page or try this interactive tool from the Copyright Advisory Network to help you determine.  
  • If the work is protected by copyright, do you feel comfortable that your use passes a fair use evaluation (or face-to-face teaching exemption, for video)? 
    • If yes, you need go no further;  
    • If not, then you will need to seek permission from the copyright holder before you can proceed. 
 Once you have determined that getting permission is advisable, there are three basic steps:
1. Determine the copyright owner.
  • Sometimes this is simple and straightforward, other times it can be a significant investigative task of its own.   In most cases you would start by checking the work for a copyright notice. If a work does not contain a copyright notice, or you cannot locate the person or entity identified in the notice, contact the author or publisher of the work,who may control the rights or be able to refer you to the current copyright owner.
    • For journal articles the journal's publisher is usually the best place to contact.  Larger publishers often have a copyright clearance office.
    • For audio or video works, check out the resources for obtaining public performance rights.
  • If you cannot determine the copyright holder, you may have what is referred to as an orphaned work.  Please note that LITS encourages you to do all due diligence to determine the rights-holder before concluding this. 
2. Contact them to ask.
  • Describe what you would like to do with the copyrighted work specifically, including the purpose of your use.
  • See the examples of permission letters noted below for a guide.
  • If the copyright holder is unavailable to ask, you may have what is referred to as an orphaned work.  Please note that LITS encourages you to do all due diligence to contact the rights-holder before concluding this. 
3. Keep records of the investigation and correspondence.
  • Records of your efforts and the results are very important, should your use ever be challenged.
    • Of course you will want to keep record of the permission received, when that happens.  But records of the steps you took to identify and contact the copyright holder can also be useful in proving due diligence on your part in cases where you are not able to successfully make contact. 
    • You may have some additional leeway to make use of the work if you can reasonably assert it has proven to be an orphaned work, but be aware that an orphaned work is still protected by copyright.  Please seriously consider your need, possible alternative solutions, and institutional risk before proceeding. Research Services librarians are available to help you assess your situation.
It is important to note that this all takes time!   Leave yourself plenty of time both to find whom to contact and for that contact to respond.  The copyright owner has no obligation to reply to you in a timely fashion, or even at all.     


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