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Obtaining Permission To Use A Copyrighted Work
There will always be times when your proposed use of someone else's copyrighted material will require the permission of the copyright holder. Perhaps you want to use more of the work than a fair use analysis would support. Perhaps the work is governed by a license which prohibits your proposed use without permission. There are any number of scenarios where obtaining permission from the copyright holder is the best or only course available to you.
Once you decide that you need permission for your use, your first step will be to identify the copyright holder of the work and it may not necessarily be the author. It could be the publisher, the author's employer, or any other entity that has received transfer of the copyright. Some works, such as music and films, contain multiple users with multiple rights.
The following sites have detailed instruction (some more than others) concerning the process of obtaining permission from the copyright holder(s). Even better, the more comprehensive sites also contain many sample or model forms of all nature. In order of utility:
• Obtain Copyright Permissions (from the University of Michigan); see the blue tabs across the top of the page. Contains specific help for seeking permission for different kinds of works: text, photos, fine art, music, film, theatre and so forth. Excellent.
• Permissions, Copyright Advisory Office at Cornell University; excellent resource for both model forms as well as comprehenive source of collective licensing agency contacts.
• Information on Obtaining Copyright Permissions; Requesting Permissions with Sample Forms (from the University of Washington)
• Getting Permission (from the University of Tennesee Knoxville)
Model Forms/Sample Letters
• Model Letter Permission to Digitize
• Model Permission Request Letter
• Sample Permission Request
• Sample Permission Request Where Copyright Holder Unknown
• Assignment of Copyright
• Sample Exclusive License to Use
* Samples Non-Exclusive License to Use
• Multiple Forms and Releases
Frequently Asked Questions About Permissions
1. What if my permission request is denied but now I believe fair use or a specific provision of the copyright law applies that would allow my use without permission? Am I disadvantaged because I asked?
Previous payment of a fee or even outright denial of permission does not preclude you from exercising your rights under the Copyright Act. You can still employ an appropriate specific provision or the fair use provision and there is no presumption against you for having asked for permission.
2. What if there is no response to my permission request?
Lack of a response does not translate into a passive grant of permission to use. If your proposed use exceeds all provisions of the law, including fair use, you probably need to find another solution such as using a link to the work, finding another work to use, or modifying your proposed use to fit within fair use.
3. What if the work is out of print? Is that the same as out of copyright?
"Out of print" is not the same as "out of copyright." An out of print work may still be protected by copyright and should be approached the same as a work still in print.
4. What if I can't find current contact information for the copyright holder? For example, the publisher of the work is out of business or the author is deceased and I can't locate heirs?
Such situations present the problem of a work whose copyright holder cannot be located, despite reasonable efforts. This has become a widely discussed and researched issue by the U.S. Copyright Office and other organizations. Such works are generally called "orphan works" and various proposals and possible solutions are being discussed.
At the present time, however, educators and libraries must make individual decisions concerning their use of such works, including evaluating the risk of liability. Those who proceed with their use should document and preserve their efforts to locate the copyright holder.