Obtaining Permission

Permission from copyright holders is often needed when writing theses, dissertations or other papers, creating course materials, or developing websites. Items in the public domain or that have been explicitly licensed for reuse do not require permission for reuse. Otherwise, you need to obtain permission when you use a work in a way that infringes on the exclusive rights granted to a copyright holder and is outside the boundaries of fair use.

Identify the Copyright Holder or Agent

For print publication:

  • Generally, the publisher is the owner of the copyrights and can grant permission for your use.
    • Many publishers also have online copyright permission pages that can be used for this purpose.
  • If the publishers is not the copyright owner, they can probably direct you to the 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.

The University of Texas, Columbia University, and the University of Michigan provide valuable guides - broken down by category - on locating copyright holders and services and agencies that grant permissions. The WATCH Copyright File is another excellent resource.

Permission to use copyrighted materials should be obtained in writing.  This can sometimes take months, so you should give yourself time to go through the process.

In general your letter requesting permission should include:

  • A complete citation to the material to be used, including title, author, page numbers, URL, etc.
  • It may be a good idea to include a copy or portion of the material
  • The number of copies you wish to make, if appropriate
  • The exact nature of the use
  • The form of distribution
  • Whether the material will be sold

Sample Permission Letter

The University Libraries have provided a sample permission letter for students writing a thesis or dissertation.  This letter is offered as a starting place for drafting a letter suitable to your needs.  The University Libraries offer this material as a service and make no representation or warranty about the suitability of this draft for individual purposes.  Users should consult an attorney for advice concerning their specific situation.

This website presents information about copyright law. The University Libraries make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

Page last modified July 11, 2024