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Copyright Basics: Requesting Permission

Requesting Permission

Is it Fair Use?

In the course of your teaching or writing, you are likely to be in situations when you want to use someone else's copyrighted material. Your first step is to determine whether you can reasonably make a fair use of the material — visit the section on Fair Use and Other Exceptions to learn more about fair use.

If not fair use, then you need to obtain permission

If you decide that your use is probably not a fair use, your next step is to ask for permission.  These are some of the top resources in identifying a rightsholder and contacting them for permission.

Identifying a Copyright Holder

Who is the copyright holder?

For many works, the publisher is the copyright holder. Look for a copyright notice such as "© 2003 Imaginary University Press" or "copyright by C. Holder, 2003." Unfortunately, not all works will include a copyright notice, and it is also possible that the copyright has changed hands since the notice was printed.

What if I really can't locate the rightsholder?

For older works, especially for materials like photographs and audio recordings, it may be impossible to identify and locate the copyright holder — these are called "orphan works." Always keep documentation of your search for a copyright holder. There is still some risk associated with using orphan works, and in the event that you cannot find the copyright holder but decide to use the material anyway, documentation of your search could prove useful.

Getting Student Permission

Contacting the Publisher or Copyright Holder

Publishers can often be contacted for permission through their website

 An increasing number of publishers prefer that you make your request using a form on their websites. Others may require that you make your request via fax or email. Whenever possible, make your request in the format preferred by the copyright holder.

Sending a permissions form letter

If the copyright holder does not have a set form for permission requests, send a letter. Below are two samples of permission request letters that you can modify to suit your needs. Always keep copies of your correspondence, especially the signed permission forms. If you are sending your letter by mail, include an extra copy for the rights holder to keep, and a self-addressed stamped envelope for the reply.