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Getting permissions, step by step

1. Determine if permission is needed for the work you want to use.

You will need to seek permission from the copyright holder of a work if:

• You’ve determined that the material you want to copy is protected by copyright

• Your use does not fall under copyright exceptions like fair use or classroom display

If you need further guidance in determining if you’re copying of a work falls under fair use, check the four factors of fair use.

2. Identify the copyright holder or agent.

For many publications, the publisher is the owner of the copyright and can grant permission for your use. Some publishers have online copyright permission pages that simplify the process. If the publisher is not the copyright owner, a publisher representative can often direct you to the copyright owner.

For photographs or films, the copyright owners sometimes use licensing agents that will grant permission for your use, typically for a fee.

Depending on the work, permission may be required from more than one source. For example, if you wish to use a journal article with photographs, the photos’ copyrights may be owned by the photographer and not the article’s author.

3. Send a request for permission to use the material.

When sending a written request (in either hardcopy or digital form), it should include:

• precise identification of the material to be used, e.g. the title, author, and page numbers

• a photocopy of or link to the material

• the number of copies you wish to make

• the exact nature of the use, including form of distribution and whether the material will be sold

For examples of permission letters that can be modified to fit your needs, see the box on the left.

If you're having trouble…

If the copyright holder can't be located or is unresponsive (or if you are unwilling to pay a license fee), you should consider using alternative materials or limiting the amount so that your use qualifies as fair use.

Contact a campus librarian for more assistance. There may be an office on your campus that can help you to obtain permission with any contractual negotiations, including negotiating the payment of fees and royalties. Check your Campus Resources to find out where to go for more help.