If your intended use of copyrighted materials does not fall within one of the exemptions, you will need to request permission to use the materials from the copyright holder.
Step 1: Determine if permission is needed.
There are situations where permission is not needed:
- The materials are in the public domain. (Remember, these materials are no longer protected by copyright.)
- The materials have a Creative Commons license. The copyright holders who place Creative Commons licenses on their works are essentially giving permission for use, provided certain conditions are followed.
- Use of the materials fall under one of the copyright exemptions.
If none of these situations apply to your use of the materials, then you need to seek permission from the copyright holder.
Step 2: Identify the copyright holder.
- Most published materials include a copyright notice that names the copyright holder. For example, a book might include a statement such as "Copyright 2010, Wagner Publishing," so you would need to contact Wagner Publishing (a quick Google search would lead you to an address or other contact information).
- Online journals, books, and other published materials also identify the copyright holder, and frequently have a "Contact" link or a "Request Permission" link that guides your through the process.
- If the copyright owner is an individual, you will need to contact the person or the person's estate directly.
- If you have trouble identifying the copyright owner, try searching the U.S. Copyright Office's public catalog.
- The University of Michigan has created a helpful list of sources for identifying copyright holders.
Step 3: Request permission in writing.
Email or mail your request for permission with the following information:
- author's, editor's, translator's full name(s)
- title, edition and volume number of book or journal
- copyright date
- ISBN for books, ISSN for magazines and journals
- exact material to be used, giving the amount or portion(s) of the work to be used, with as much specificity as possible
- how the materials will be used
- whether the material is to be sold
- the name and brief description of your organization
- your contact information
Be prepared for the copyright holder to charge a fee for use of their material.
Step 4: Include statement of permission granted
- Acknowledge that you have permission to use the copyrighted materials in a your work.
- The copyright holder may stipulate how they want the acknowledgement worded.
- Style guides (APA, MLA, Chicago, for example) often specify how or where these statements should appear in your work.
What if you aren't granted permission to use the materials?
If you do not receive permission to use copyrighted materials, you have a couple options.
- You can find other materials to use. Check for materials in the public domain or materials with Creative Commons licenses.
- You can use less of the materials or use them differently so that you can rely on fair use.
If you use the materials without permission, you risk facing legal action from the copyright holder.
What if you never hear back from the copyright holder? Consider it a negative response.