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Copyright Resources

How Do I Seek Permission?

Once you have determined that you need to request permission to reuse copyright protected material, what should do you do?

(Remember: you do not need to request permission for works that are licensed under a Creative Commons or other license agreement--provided you follow the terms of the license--or for works that are in the public domain. Your use might also be a Fair Use and therefore would not require permission.)

1) Identify the copyright owner. 

In some cases the copyright owner is the creator of the work, in others it is the publisher or distributor of that work, still others, the creator's heir. 

  • Look for a copyright statement on the work (IE: © 2010 John Doe). 
  • Because a copyright statement is not required, look for an individual or organization that is associated with the work (typically the publisher or the author) to inquire about permissions. 

2) Request permission. 

Contact the copyright owners. There are some different scenarios for doing this.

  • Publishers will frequently have "Permission Requests" forms or contacts on their websites. Follow their conventions as closely as possible to make the process easy.
    • Some publishers, especially journal publishers, use the Copyright Clearance Center’s Rightslink® service to facilitate permissions requests; a link is often located with the full text of an article. Publishers frequently charge for granting permissions using Rightslink. 
  • If a process for requesting permission is not established, or if the copyright owner is an individual rather than a publisher, contact the copyright owner directly. Contact by phone, letter, or email, but be sure to make the following information available about your request:
    • Who you are (faculty, researcher)
    • What material you are looking to reuse as specifically as possible (include page numbers, title of images, etc.)
    • Where and How you intend to reuse the material (course management system, open access journal article, etc.)
    • The time frame for your reuse of the material (for one semester, indefinitely)Columbia University's

Copyright Advisory Office has Model Permission Letters for different situations. 

3) Keep good records.

  • Retain all of the correspondence for each permission request that you make, including permissions/licenses received as well as your efforts to secure permission to reuse copyrighted material.
  • Maintain your files even after your work has been published and disseminated.  

See more tips from Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office Permissions resource. 

What If I Can't Find the Owner?

Even when you seek permisson to reuse a work, there are times when there is no resolution. Perhaps you were unable to identify or make contact with the copyright owner, or perhaps the owner did not respond to your requests. In these cases: 

  • Re-evaluate your Fair Use analysis, based upon your due diligence in seeking permission.
  • Choose a different work for which permission is not an issue.
  • Alter your planned use of the work. Revise your plans to something more modest and controllable, and again perform a Fair Use analysis. 
  • Conduct a risk-benefit analysis. Consider the facts and circumstances of your proposed use. You may want to consult an attorney.

See "If You Can Not Find the Owner," Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office.