Getting Permission to Use a Copyrighted Work

Locating the copyright owner is the first step in getting permission. Once you identify the appropriate copyright owner, you need to contact them in writing to request permission.

What do you do if permission is denied? 

  • Consider using an alternative work. Is there something else that you can use to illustrate your point or that will fit as well as the original work?
  • Alter your intended use and reevaluate it for fair use. You might be able to use less of the work or limit the distribution.

What do you include in a permissions request? 

When you contact a copyright owner, include the following information in your request for permission:

  • the exact work you want to use, including how much;
  • the number of copies you intend to make, such as the print run, or number of students in the class -- note: for online use, you’ll skip this and include information about how you plan to share the work online;
  • a description of your intended use of the work, such as for a public performance;
  • how you plan to distribute the work, such as publication on a website, in a journal article, or course reserves system;
  • if you plan on selling the work;
  • a deadline for response, if applicable. 

Always remember to retain a written response. If you receive verbal permission over the phone, follow-up with the copyright owner by mail or email.

Keep in mind that some copyright owners will require you to use their own copyright permissions form or letter. Be prepared to be flexible.

Keeping Track of Permissions Requests 

If you are working on a larger project that requires multiple permissions requests, you want to stay organized. Documenting needed permissions details early in your project will help you quickly obtain permissions later. You'll want to make note of important details like the copyright owner, where you found the work originally, and if the work is licensed.

Need a template to get started? Try this spreadsheet originally created by Michelle Reed of Library Futures and adapted by Jody Bailey and Mae Velloso-Lyons, both of Emory University. Not only can you note permissions details here as you're conducting research, you can also use it to track your communication with copyright owners as you seek permission.