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Copyright: Requesting Permission

Requesting Permission

The first step is to determine if permission is needed. 

  • If one of the following applies to your use of the work, then you do not need permission from the copyright holder.
    • The work has a Creative Commons License that allows for your intended use.  (Remember you must still cite the source).
    • The information is a fact or idea.
    • The work is in the Public Domain.
    • Your use falls under one of the Copyright Exceptions, the Face-to-Face Teaching Exception, The TEACH Act, or Fair Use.
  • Refer to the Copyright Basics, Copyright for Students, or Copyright for Faculty Tabs for more information.

If you determine that permission is required, you will need to complete the following steps:

  1. Decide who to contact
    • Publisher - check with the company that published or produced the work.  Most publisher websites offer a way to submit permission requests.
    • Permission Granting Company - A permission granting company such as the Copyright Clearance Center provide copyright licensing services for academic users of many copyrighted materials. (Note: There may be a fee).
    • Rightsholder - Contact the owner of the copyrighted work.  Contact information may be available on the publisher's website.  If it is not available, you may have to contact online searches for the address and phone number of the copyright holder.  Do not send permission request letters to all the possible rightsholders at the same time.  If you do not have enough information about who owns the copyright, be honest with your contacts, they may be able to help you find the correct person.
  2. Decide how to make the request
    • If available, follow the copyright holder's expressed preference for permission requests (ex. Online form, fax, mail, email, etc.)  Make the process as easy as possible for the copyright holder.  The less effort they have to put forth, the more likely you are to get the permission you need. 
      • A few things to consider when requesting permission
        • Telephone - may be the quickest method for getting a response, but they should always be followed up with a letter or email in order to have written documentation of the exact scope of the permission. 
        • Email permission are legally acceptable in most cases, but is always better to have an original signature.
        • Regardless of how you request information, make sure to include your mailing address, phone number, email address, and the date.
        • If you send the request by mail, include a self-addressed, stamped return envelope as well as a second copy of your request for the copyright holder's records. 
  3. Make the Request
    • No matter how you decided to make the request, make sure that you include the following information
      • Who - Introduce yourself, your institutional affiliation, a brief summary of your credentials.
      • What - Be specific as possible when you cite and describe the work you want to use.  If you plan on using the entire work, say so.  If you only need a portion, give the details about what you want to use.  You may need to give additional details or include copies of the material, especially if you are using a photographic image, or sound of film clips. 
      • Why - Explain why you are contacting them for permission. 
      • How - Explain how you plan to use the work.  Specify if the use id for commercial or nonprofit, for classroom learning or distance education, for research and publication, etc.  Remember, the permission you obtain is limited by its own terms.  If you secure permission to include a clip of a video in a multimedia project for your own classroom teaching, the permission may not include sharing the project with colleagues, posting it on your website, or selling copies at a conference.  If you want the rights to do those things, make sure to include them in your permission requests.  
      • When - Explain how long you plan to use the work, one semester, indefinitely.  Some copyright holders may be wary of granting permission the extended periods of time or for dates far in the future, but if that is what you need, then ask for those rights. 
      • Where - Provide information about where the work will be used.  For example, including the work in your dissertation, making classroom copies, placing the item on reserve, or in coursepacks, posting to a learning management system, etc.  Include the exact or estimated number of copies that you wish to make or the number of uses intended. 
  1. Evaluate the Results
    • Possible results of your request
      • Permission Granted - if you obtain permission, make sure to keep a copy of ALL correspondence and terms.  Also, keep a detailed record of your search to identify and locate the copyright holder.  Then in the unlikely event that your use of the work is ever challenged, you will be able to demonstrate your good efforts.  Challenges can happen at any time and may come far in the future, so keep a permanent file of the records.  You may also need to contact the same copyright holder again for a later use of the work, and the notes from the past will make that task much easier. 
      • Permission Granted, but at a Cost - the copyright holder may charge a fee for the permission.  A lower fee might be obtained if you change your plans (ex. copying fewer pages or making fewer copies).  Sometimes the copyright holder will require their own permission form, make sure you read it carefully.  The form could impose limits or include legal constraints (ex. "You agree to be bound by the law of Illinois") that may not be acceptable to you.  The decision to accept or not is up to you, your counsel or supervisors, and your budget.  If you decide to pay the fee, make sure to keep a copy of ALL correspondence and forms. 
      • Permission Denied - if the request is denied, it might be worth asking why, since it might be possible to negotiate the terms of the request.  If it is not, then you will need to change your plans or look for alternative materials.
      • No Response Received - if you are unable to find the owner or you did not receive a reply, it is possible that the work may be an "orphan work".  It would be a risk to use a work and you will want to carefully weigh the benefits of using the work against the risk of doing so.