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"Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet." - Mark Twain

Seeking Permission to Use Copyrighted Works

Permission is always required to use copyright protected materials unless the is covered under a limit or exception to copyright law such as classroom or fair use. This page discusses when to seek permission and the various means you can use to obtain permission.

When Should You Seek Permission?

You must obtain permission to use work protected by copyright law if the work is not in the public domain and does not meet the criteria for fair use or another specific exception in the copyright law. Permission must come from the copyright holder or its agent in order to reproduce or reuse the work.

You need copyright permission to:

  • Distribute a coursepack in print or electronic format
  • Post content on an e-learning system
  • Post content to an institution's intranet
  • Photocopy content for classroom use
  • Photocopy an article for library reserve
  • Borrow or lend material through ILL
  • Reproduce an out-of-print book
  • Use content in a private consulting engagement
  • Republish content in a dissertation, thesis, or other publication
  • Use or republish content in university fundraising or recruiting, or in an exhibit
  • Conduct research for non-classroom use 

Even if an instructor uses their own work, they may not have the right to reproduce and distribute it. The work could be considered a work-for-hire or the instructor could have transferred their reproduce and distribute rights to a publisher when their work was published.  In these cases the ownership of the materials may belong to the institution or publisher. Depending on that institution's copyright policies or the publishers policies, specific permission to reproduce these materials may have to be obtained.

How Do You Obtain Permission?

There are two options for obtaining copyright permission. You may contact the copyright holder directly or use an authorized licensing agent such as Copyright Clearance Center. Complete and accurate information is required to expedite the process. The American Association of Publishers suggests that the following information be collected about the requested material:

  • Title
  • Author and/or editor
  • Edition of materials to be duplicated
  • Exact material to be used, giving amount, page numbers, chapters and, if possible, a copy of the material
  • Number of copies to be made
  • Use to be made of duplicated materials
  • Form of distribution (classroom, newsletter, etc.)
  • Whether or not the material is to be sold
  • Type of reprint (ditto, photography, offset, typeset)

The process of granting permission requires time to check the status of the copyright and to evaluate the nature of the request. It is advisable, therefore, to allow enough lead time to obtain permission before the materials are needed.

Obtaining Permission from the Copyright Holder

For most print and online publications, the publisher can usually provide permission. If you cannot identify the copyright holder, you may need to request a search by the U.S. Copyright Office. Keep in mind that The Copyright Office can search only registered works. However, registration is not a requirement for copyright protection, so the U.S. Copyright Office does not have complete records. Other resources to aid in locating a copyright holder include publishers, author trade associations, and online search engines. If a copyright holder is deceased, contact the executor of their estate. The Library can help and advise you locating a copyright holder.

When obtaining permission from a copyright holder you should include in your request:

  • Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address
  • Your title, position and institution's name
  • The date of your request
  • The title of the work to be copied with a description and citation of that work
  • A description of how the work is to be used, by whom and for how long
  • A signature line for the copyright holder to sign, signifying that permission has been granted

A lack of response from the copyright holder does not, under U.S. law, convey permission. Addition, some works may contain materials from multiple copyright holders and may require separate authorizations. Also, he copyright holder may charge a fee for your use or deny you the permission you seek. Remember acknowledging the source of content is not a substitute for copyright permission.

Obtaining Permission Through the Copyright Clearance Center

The Copyright Clearance Center provides a streamlined and efficient way to obtain permission to use copyrighted materials. You can access the usage rights to the some but not all journals, books, magazines and other materials worldwide at In many cases, Copyright Clearance Center can provide instant authorization for the use of copyright-protected content. If you need permission to use a title that is not covered in their catalog, they can attempt to secure the rights on your behalf. Copyright Clearance Center also provides rights to use and share content published outside of the U.S. Please be aware that this is a fee based service.

Obtaining Permission to Use Images or Photos

Unfortunately, there is little or no information about the artist or photographer associated with most images you encounter on the internet, making it extremely difficult to locate the copyright holder in order to secure permission. It is easier to choose images from a collection or database where the permission is either available under a subscription license or there is enough contact information to locate and contact the artist or photographer.Here are some examples of image or photo collections online:


Obtaining Permission to Use Music

>All music is protected by copyright unless it is in the Public Domain. In fact of all artistic works protected by copyright, music is the most licensed and regulated. Licenses are required to:

  • Play music in public
  • Play music on telephone hold
  • Play music on intercom systems and jukeboxes in public places
  • Broadcast music via radio, television, or the internet
  • Perform music in public

The most efficient way to get permission is to contact a licensing agency. Here are the agencies that license most music in the United States:

American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)
Contact (ASCAP)

Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
Contact BMI

Harry Fox Agency
40 Wall Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10005
Telephone: (212) 834-0100
Fax: (646) 487-6779
Contact Harry Fox Agency

Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)
55 Music Square East
Nashville, TN 37203
Contact SESAC

Obtaining Permission for Movies and Other Audiovisual Works

Fair use or the TEACH Act can allow for limited portions and in some cases the complete audiovisual work to be performed for education in certain circumstances. All other uses require permission. Here are the agencies that license must public performances for film in the United States:

Criterion Pictures USA
1050 Oak Creek Drive
 Lombard, IL  60148
Contact Criterion Picture USA

Kino Lorber, Inc.
333 W. 39th St., Ste. 503
New York, NY 10018
Contact Kino Lorber Inc.

MGM Media Licensing

Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC)
5455 Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90066
Contact MPLC

Sony Classics
Contact Sony Classics

Swank Motion Pictures
10795 Watson Road
St. Louis, Missouri 63127-1012
Contact Swank Motion Pictures 

Universal Studios Media Licensing
100 Universal City Plaza, 1440/15 
Universal City, CA 91608
Contact Universal Studios Media Licensing

Warner Brothers Clip Library
(Includes: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Turner Entertainment Co., Castle Rock Entertainment, and Hanna Barbera Features)

If you have problems getting permission through the agencies, you can try to contact the publisher directly.

Library Assistance with Copyright Permissions

The Library will seek and pay for permission for items placed on Electronic Reserves. See Course Reserves for more information.

The Library can also assist with other copyright permission needs. Please email for assistance.

Copyright Clearance Center

Copyright Clearance Center

The CCC is a licensing clearinghouse representing thousands of publishers and authors. The CCC can streamline the process of obtaining rights for the use of copyrighted materials when permission is required. In many cases teachers will not need to obtain rights, but there are times when they will.

Anyone can enter the CCC and check the cost of royalties based on a specific use. If an item is not listed, the CCC can contact the rightsholder for you. Visit the CCC.