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 your 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.
For some older works, especially photographs and audio recordings, it may prove impossible to identify the copyright holder. These are considered orphan works, and are likely to be eligible for fair use. Always keep records of a search for an orphan work's copyright holder, as they could prove useful if fair use is challenged.
There are a number of websites and organizations that can help you identify copyright holders. Please see the Recommended Resources section for more details.
3. Send a request for permission to use the material.
Many publishers prefer a request come by a form on their website, but some authors and publishers may need to be contacted by email, fax or written letter.
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 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
See this University of Texas example of a permission letter that can be modified to fit your needs.
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.
(adapted with permission from University of California Copyright