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Getting Permission not only applies to individuals wishing to utilize more than fair use portions of others copyrighted works, it often concerns librarians and educators, as well as students and researchers. Yet for everyone in general, the following compliance principle should apply. When uncertain, ask for permission in writing.
A permission request reference should include the resource title, author, page range, standard number (ISBN or ISSN), and date. For digital media, other citation details may apply. It is a practical measure to insist for the permission reply in a permanent written format, including the name of the authorizing party. Do NOT rely on verbal, telephone, or mobile text messages. An email, telephone facsimile, or written letter with date and name of the permission-granting authorization should be saved in some type of copyright permission file.[i] To save time, the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) is the first place to try to get permission at https://www.copyright.com/. If a document or digital work needed is not registered with the CCC, then contact the publisher or author directly. The U.S. Copyright Office offers a free online database of copyright registrations (records since 1978) which may assist you in finding the author. Keyword searching for an author contact in a Web search engine is another option.
Need to ask for permission to perform or play the music of others? SONGVIEW database provides music users a listing of public performance copyright ownership and administration shares for music licenses in the United States. See Artists, Musicians & Writers section for more.
Orphan works are a universal challenge where finding copyright owners after a realistic good faith search are unfounded. This type of copyrighted work could be considered an orphaned work. A pending Act and study by the US Copyright Office may limit the copyright owners in demanding only reasonable reimbursement at a later date, so long as the work utilized has provided attribution.
In addition to not being able to find a copyright owner, other challenges may include no reply from the permission request, a cost-prohibitive copyright fee, or the copyright owner refusing permission. When this occurs, returning to a fair use analysis may guide you on what to do. Other options include replacing the work with an alternative work, using a smaller portion of the work, or conducting a risk-benefit analysis with legal counsel.[ii] Most individuals want to do the right thing.
Outside of instructional use in education, there are many other instances where one may need to obtain copyright permission to recopy resources for republication or initial use for other books, journal articles, or online publishing, e.g. blogs and wikis.
Below are general instructions for scholars, researchers, and commercial authors on how to obtain permission from the publishers of others’ resources. These are basic guidelines and should not be considered legal advice, only general tips on how to follow-up with publishers and/or authors for permission to use their works in your newly created works.
If you are reprinting content from your own original works previously published, you might also need to ask for permission to re-use your works if you signed a publishing contract agreement when submitting your content for some works, such as journal articles or book chapters. Depending on what the contracts state and what you may have arranged, you may not need permission for your re-use of your own work(s) for new publishing. However, this is often not the case, but it is good to review the contracts signed when these works were published. Once you determine what the previous publisher contact agreements state, and if you signed over all of your copyright exclusive rights, then, yes, permission is needed from those works.
Columbia University Libraries' Copyright Advisory Office provides Model Permission Letters to use for when permission is required. The format of these letters are ideal for you to use for an email or letter sent to the publisher for permission. Do NOT rely on any verbal telephone or text messages from a publisher. Emails, facsimiles, or traditional letters are best to document any permission. Also, be prepared to pay for some permission, especially for posting excerpt or complete document content on a public viewed web resource, such as blogs and wikis.
You will need to research for the permission contacts from each publisher (or author) of any work you plan to copy and use within your new work. Many publishers provide a copyright permissions page for such requests. For others you may need to perform a web search (e.g. Google or Bing) for “permission,” “copyright,” and the name of the publisher. Often these publishers provide online permission templates too. If this is the case, print out a screen shot before clicking any submit button with your permission request.
[i] Richard Stim, Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off, (Berkeley, CA: Nolo, 2004). Stim’s book also provides ideas on how to write letters to contact an author/publisher.
[ii] Kenneth Crews, Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators, (Chicago: ALA, 2012), 143.
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