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Copyright Compliance: Requesting Copyright Permissions Directly

Information about Copyright and Fair Use as it applies to the educational setting.

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Requesting Copyright Permissions Directly

Sometimes, when seeking to use copyrighted material it is either prudent or necessary ask permission. Below are some examples of situations that almost always exceed fair use and require permission:

  • Repetitive copying — Using copyrighted materials in multiple courses or multiple terms will normally require advance permission from the rightsholder, 17 USC § 107(3).
  • Copying for profit — Faculty should not charge students more than the actual cost of photocopying the material, 17 USC § 107(1).
  • Copying consumables — The duplication of works that are consumed in the classroom, such as standardized tests, exercises, and workbooks, normally requires permission from the copyright owner, 17 USC § 107(4).
  • Coursepacks — Creation of a collective work or anthology by copying a number of copyrighted articles and excerpts to be purchased and used together as the basic text for a course will in most instances require the permission of the copyrighted owners, 17 USC § 107(4).

Do I really need permission? Generally speaking, if a work was produced or published in the last few decades it is likely that it is still under copyright protection. However, some works fall into public domain, and therefore do not have copyright protection. Works in the public domain generally fall into one of four categories:

  1. Generic information, such as facts, numbers and ideas. See What Is NOT Protected By Copyright?
  2. Works whose copyrights have lapsed due to the passage of time or the failure of the copyright holder to renew a registration. Works created before 1978 had to be registered to receive protection.
  3. Works created prior to March 1989 that failed to include a proper notice of copyright.
  4. Works created by the U.S. federal government.

If this is starting to sound complicated, it is. Fortunately, there are some great tools that make determining the status of a copyright much simpler:

Copyright Clearance Center is a global rights broker for copyright permissions for items such as in- and out-of-print books, journals, newspapers, magazines, movies, television shows, images, blogs and ebooks - CCC makes it easy for businesses and academic institutions to purchase rights to use copyright-protected materials while compensating publishers and content creators for their works. Before you put forth the effort to request permission directly from the rightsholder check their database to determine if rights to the content is handled by CCC.

Identifying the Rightsholder: When dealing with published works the publisher will almost always hold the reproduction and distribution rights. In most published works there will be a copyright notice that will tell you exactly who the rightsholder is, and in some cases include contact information.

  • Books generally display this information on the verso, which is the page just after the title page.
  • Magazines and journals usually have an information section or sections containing staff credits, subscription information, and contact information. The information section may be an entire page or a small box located in the corner of a page. The location of these information sections varies greatly depending on the publication - check the inside front cover, the table of contents and any other pages close to the front first; but it could be anywhere. Look for references to "permissions" or "reprints."
  • Audiovisuals normally have a copyright notice on the label and more complete information on the packaging or liner notes. Digital media will often have metadata embedded in the files that can be accessed by playing the media on a computer or other digital media device.
  • In most cases, the creator retains the copyrights for unpublished works.

Contacting the Rightsholder: Some publishers print contact information regarding reprint permissions in their material, but many publishers now have permissions pages on their websites that include the most current contact information, and in some cases, forms that can be filled out and submitted online. Some publishers will refer you back to the Copyright Clearance Center as the agent that handles permissions for their company. If a request must be sent by snail mail it should be addressed to the to the permissions department of the publisher or rightsholder in question, and include a self-addressed return envelope. Whether by email, online form, or letter, permissions requests should always be made in writing, and permissions should always be given in writing. If it is not in writing it didn't happen.

Crafting a Request: When requesting use of copyrighted material, you should communicate complete and accurate information to the rightsholder. The information communicated should include, at minimum, the following:

  1. Title, author and/or editor, and edition of materials to be duplicated
  2. Exact material to be used, giving amount, page numbers, chapters and, if possible, a photocopy of the material
  3. Type of duplication (photocopy, digital copy, photograph, etc.)
  4. Number of copies to be made
  5. Form of distribution (classroom handout, course management system, coursepack, newsletter, etc.)
  6. Use to be made of duplicated materials
  7. Whether or not the material will be sold

Request Letter Template: Use the Copyright Permission Request Letter Template as a starting point to craft a letter or email to the rightsholder.

Allow Time for Processing: The process of granting permission requires time for the publisher to check the status of the copyright and to evaluate the nature of the request. It is advisable, therefore, to allow enough lead time to obtain permission before the materials are needed. In some instances, the publisher may assess a fee for the permission.


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