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Copyright: Asking Permission

This guide provides a brief introduction to copyright.

Step 1: Determine if Permission Is Needed

If one of the following applies to your use of an item, permission from the copyright holder is not needed: 

Refer to the Copyright Basics and/or the student or faculty tabs for more information. If you have questions, please contact

Step 2: Decide Who to Contact

There are several options when determining to whom a permissions request should be directed:

  • Publisher: Check with the company that published/produced the material. Many publisher websites offer permission requests.
  • Permission Granting Company: A permission granting company such as the Copyright Clearance Center provides copyright licensing services for academic users of many copyrighted materials. (There may be a fee.)
  • Rightsholder: Contact the individual or other entity that owns the copyright to the work. Contact information and procedures may be available on the publisher's website. If not, it may be necessary to conduct online searches for the address and phone number of the individual copyright holder. Do not send permission letters to all possible rightsholders simultaneously. If you do not have much information about who owns the copyright, be honest with your contacts, and they may be able to help you find the right person.

Step 3: Decide How to Make the Request

If available, follow the copyright holder's expressed preference for permission requests (i.e., online form, fax, mail, email, etc.). Make the process easy for the copyright owner. The less effort the owner has to put forth, the more likely you are to get the permission you need. 

These are a few points that are worth consideration:

  • Telephone calls may be the quickest method for getting a response from the owner, but they should be followed up with a letter or email in order to document the exact scope of the permission.
  • Email permissions are legally acceptable in most cases, but an original signature is usually best.
  • Regardless of the mode of correspondence, be sure to include your mailing address, telephone, email address, and the date.
  • If you send the permission request by mail, include a self-addressed, stamped return envelope and a second copy of your request for the owner's records. 

Step 4: Make the Request

Regardless of how you make the request, be sure to include the following pertinent information:

  • Who: Introduce yourself, provide your institutional affiliation (i.e., Liberty University), and include a brief summary of your credentials. For example: “I am a professor of history at Liberty University and am the author of several books on American history.” or “I am a doctoral student working on my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at Liberty University.”
  • What: Be as specific as possible when you cite and describe the work you wish to use. If you plan to use the entire work, say so. If you need only a portion, give the details. You may need to be more detailed or include copies of the material, especially if you are using photographic images or sound or film clips. For example: “I would like permission to reproduce pages 113 through 142 of [full citation to the book].”
  • Why: Tell why you are contacting that person or entity for permission. For example: “I am writing to you because I believe your company acquired the company that originally published the book.” Another example: “I believe that you are the grandson of the original writer, and, therefore, may have inherited the copyright to the letters and diaries.” If you are using materials from a library or archives, do not assume that the institution holds the copyrights. You need to investigate and ask.
  • How: Tell how you plan to use the work. Specify whether your use is commercial or nonprofit, for classroom learning or distance education, for research and publication, etc. Remember, the permission you obtain is limited by its own terms. For example, if you secure permission to include a video clip in a multimedia project for your own classroom teaching, the permission may not include sharing the project with colleagues, posting it to your website, or selling copies at a conference. If you want those rights, be sure to include them in the permission request.
  • When: State how long you plan to use the work, whether one semester or indefinitely. Some owners may be wary of granting permission for extended periods of time or for dates far in the future, but if that is what you need, ask for those rights.
  • Where: Include information about where the work will be used. Such uses may involve including the work in your dissertation, making classroom copies, placing the item on reserve or in coursepacks, posting to a learning management system, etc. Include the exact or estimated number of copies that you wish to make or the number of uses intended.

Model Permission Letters

Model Letter for Video Use

Model Letter for Text Use

Model Letter for Use of Material in a Course Management System

Step 5: Evaluate the Results

There are four possible results for your request:

  1. Permission Granted: If you successfully obtain permission, keep a copy of all correspondence and forms. Also, keep a detailed record of your quest to identify and locate the copyright owner. In the unlikely event that your use of the work is ever challenged, you will need to demonstrate your good efforts. That challenge could arise far in the future, so keep a permanent file of the records. Moreover, you might need to contact that same copyright owner again for a later use of the work, and your notes from the past will make the task easier.
  2. Permission Granted, but at a Cost: The copyright owner may charge a fee for the permission. You might obtain a lower fee if you change your plans (e.g., by copying fewer pages or making fewer copies of the work). Sometimes copyright owners require their own permission form. Read it carefully. The form may impose limits or include legal constraints (e.g., “You agree to be bound by the law of Illinois.”) that are not acceptable to you. The decision to accept will be up to you, your counsel or supervisors, and your budget. If you choose to pay the fee, keep a copy of all correspondence and forms.
  3. Permission Denied: If your request is denied, it may be worthwhile to ask why since it may be possible to negotiate the terms of your request. If not, you will need to change your plans or look for alternative materials.
  4. No Response Received: If you cannot find the owner or you did not receive a reply, the work may be an “orphan work.” You would be taking a risk to use the work and may want to carefully weigh the benefits of using the it against the risk of doing so.

Creative Commons License

This page is licensed by a Creative Commons Attribution License with attribution to its author Dr. Kenneth D. Crews (formerly of Columbia University)

Creative Commons License