If you are seeking to use a copyrighted work, you may need to obtain permission from the copyright owner. The owner may be the original creator of the work or that person's employer. The original author may also have transferred the copyright to a publisher or some other party. In some instances, you may contact the owner directly. In other cases, you can secure permission on behalf of the owner by contacting a collective licensing agency.
Oftentimes the copyright owner will require a fee or impose other conditions. You have to decide if the cost and conditions are acceptable, and you should feel free to negotiate. Remember, permission is not necessary if (1) your use is within fair use or another copyright exemption pertains; (2) the work is not protected by copyright at all; or (3) your use is within the terms of a license agreement, including, for example, a Creative Commons license from the author.
Identifying the Copyright Owner
The first source for identifying the copyright owner is the copyright notice on the work itself, which will usually look something like this: Copyright © 2005, XYZ Corporation. Another important source is the registration of the claim of copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. For information about searching registration records, see How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work (U.S. Copyright Office).
For print publications, generally the publisher is the owner of the copyright and can grant permission for your use. Many publishers also have online copyright permission pages that can be used for this purpose. If the publisher is not the copyright owner, they can probably assist you in finding the actual copyright owner.
Depending on the work, permission may be required from more than one source. For example, if you wish to use a photo from a journal, the publisher may own the copyright for the photo but if the subject of the photo is a well known person, you may also need to obtain permission from the individual in the photo and the photographer. Likewise, a publisher of a textbook may own the copyright for the textual material, but not the photographs or charts. This can be very confusing at times. Hopefully the copyright notice will contain all the pertinent copyright information, but don't hesitate to contact the publisher if you have any questions.
Collective Licensing Agencies
Collective licensing agencies are organizations meant to centralize copyright ownership information for their respective industries. These centers can expedite your search, either by putting you directly in touch with a copyright owner or by negotiating the copyright usage itself. However, most of these agencies do charge a fee for their services.
Works in Print
Films and other Audio-Visual Works
Start your search with the Internet Movie Database to identify who owns the film (listed under the "Company Credits"). Some of the licensing agencies are:
Musical Works: Performance Rights
Performance rights are all uses associated with public performance of copyrighted music, everything from concert performances to playing an artist's music on overhead speakers in a retail space. Together, these three licensing agencies encompass the vast majority of published American music.
ARS and VAGA are two of the pre-eminent artists' rights organizations which license reproduction rights to users of visual art on behalf of its members.
Dramatic works may not be publicly performed without permission, either in their entirety or in smaller portions, such as excerpts, acts, scenes, monologues, etc. The rights that are needed to publicly perform a dramatic work which combines a musical work together with staging, dialogue, costuming, special lighting, choreography, etc., are referred to as "grand performing rights." Grand performing rights are typically obtained from the creator of the work or their publisher.
The rights to publicly perform a single piece of music from a musical play in a non-dramatic fashion are often referred to as "small performing rights." Small performing rights are typically obtained from organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. To qualify as a non-dramatic performance, a piece of music taken from a musical play may not make use of any form of staging, choreography, etc., even if the use of any of these elements is not intended to represent any part of the original musical play. For example, creating your own dance steps to a piece of music from a musical play disqualifies the use as a non-dramatic use and permission for the grand performing rights must be sought.
Permission must be secured to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or make derivative works of software. Nearly all software publishers may be contacted through their homepage on the Internet.
Syndicated Comics, Cartoons, and Editorials
If your proposed use does not fit within the criteria for one of the exemptions discussed in the Exceptions & Limitations section, or if you do not have a license to use the work for your intended purpose, you will need to obtain permission from the owner of the work prior to using it.
Requests for permission should be in writing and include the following information:
It is recommended that you include a stamped, self-addressed envelope to facilitate the owner's reply, and provide your complete contact information should there be any questions. A sample letter can be found below, plus several other sample letters have also been included as part of the UI Faculty-Staff Handbook (FSH 6580, Section L).
Sample Permission Letter
Content in this page was used or adapted with permission from one or more institutions. Please see acknowledgements.