Copyright Qs & As: Permission to Use Copyright Materials

9.1 Question: My organization is developing a course on work habits to be used for internal purposes only for all of our employees. We are gathering articles from various academic and non-academic publications. Is it necessary to obtain permission to use these articles in our course materials?

Answer: You will need permission to use the articles in your course materials, even if the materials will only be distributed internally. You may be able to obtain permission from the authors or publishers of the articles, or from a photocopying copyright collective such as the Copyright Clearance Center (in the U.S.) or Access Copyright (in Canada). (2007-1)

9.2 Question: I am translating a book from French into English. Do I approach the publisher or author of the French book for permission to do so? And who owns the rights in the English translation?

Answer: Good assumption that you need to obtain permission to translate a book. Contact either the publisher or author – whoever is easier to reach. Then ask them who owns the rights in the French book (as this would be subject to a publishing agreement.) The translator of a work owns the copyright in the translation, in this case, the English version. (2007-4)

9.3 Question: My enterprise organizes an annual essay writing contest. We post the winning entries on our Web site and distribute a DVD with all entries. Do we need permission to do this?

Answer: Yes, copyright in an essay belongs to the author of that essay. This is true even in a contest situation. Your contest entry form could include permission from the author to you for any uses you need to make of the entry. For winning entries, you may want to go further and obtain permission to use the name of the author, and perhaps a photo of him. (2007-4)

9.4 Question: I have a slogan I would like to protect. How do I go about doing that?

Answer: Generally, slogans are not protected by copyright. The U.S. Copyright Office states that “titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents” are not protected by copyright. If a slogan is associated with a product or service, it may be eligible for trademark protection. (2008-3)

9.5 Question: My company writes textbooks. We obtain permissions to use existing copyright-protected materials owned by others in our textbooks. Now we would like to license our content/textbooks to another party. Do we have the right to do that?

Answer: When you license content owned by others, you can ask for the permission to relicense that content to third parties. Or if you prefer not to do so (as it may cost you additional money), you may want to inform third parties that they may need to get permissions/licenses prior to reproducing your content/textbooks. (2008-3)

9.6 Question: My organization has purchased a journal article from a document supplier. May I send this article to a third party for translation into another language or does this infringe the “further reproduction, electronic storage or electronic transmission” which was expressly prohibited in the invoice from the document supplier?

Answer: Unless you own the copyright in a work, whenever you translate a work or have someone translate it on your behalf, you need permission from the copyright owner of that work. Translation is a right of every copyright holder. It is an adaptation of a work that requires advance permission. (2010-1)

9.7 Question: Do you need permission to include a painting or sculpture which appears in the background of a photograph of a person?

Answer: Some countries have exceptions from copyright law for the incidental inclusion of copyright-protected works in other copyright protected material. Generally, for the exception to apply, the use must be incidental and not deliberate. For example, the exception may allow a journalist to photograph a person with a painting in the background. (2009-2)

9.8 Question: If I find an image on “Google Images” can I use it in a book published by a non-profit organization?

Answer: Google images answers this with the following: “The images identified by the Google Image Search service may be protected by copyrights. Although you can locate and access the images through our service, we cannot grant you any rights to use them for any purpose other than viewing them on the web. Accordingly, if you would like to use any images you have found through our service, we advise you to contact the site owner to obtain the requisite permissions.” (2009-4)

9.9 Question:  If I provide online rights to use my photo, am I automatically being covered by a Creative Commons License?  Does it make a difference if the use is non-profit or editorial?

Answer:  You may provide any sorts of rights you wish.  Unless you state so, a Creative Commons license will never automatically apply to your images, even if the use is non-profit or editorial. (2010-4)

9.10  Question:  Is it legal to use someone else’s recipe and publish it in a book or blog if you credit the author of the recipe?

Answer:  A recipe may be protected by copyright if it is more than a mere listing of ingredients, for example, there are instructions on how to prepare and cook the ingredients. The ideas in the recipe are not protected, just the words used to express the ideas. So you may not copy the recipe per se (even if you credit the author), but you could create a similar recipe using your own words. (2010-3)

9.11 Question:  The non-profit I work for is putting together a workbook and accompanying video.  If we include short quotations or summaries (both cited) to help illustrate a point, can we sell the material?

Answer:  Short portions of a work such as quotations or summaries may be used in some circumstances without obtaining permission. However, this depends on each particular case and you must examine various factors such as what portion, percent wise, and “value” wise you copied, competition with original and more. In some countries, this may be covered by the defense of fair use or fair dealing. Whether you sell the material or not is not by itself determinative of whether you require permission. (2011-1)

9.12 Question:  How do I obtain permission to use a work created by a foreign author?

Answer:  The permissions procedure for any work of any origin is the same. Determine if it is a work protected by copyright, if the duration of protection is still ongoing, and whether your use is a copyright use for which permission is required (that is, not subject to fair use (U.S.A.) or any other provision or exception in the country where the work is being reproduced.) If you need to obtain permission, you must contact the copyright holder or his representative, including a copyright collective, to obtain that permission. (2011-2)

9.13 Question: Do I always have to pay for copyright permissions?

Answer:  It is up to the copyright owner to make this determination. If the copyright owner asks for a fee, you may be able to negotiate a lower fee, or negotiate for specific terms and conditions related to the fee. (2011-2)

9.14 QuestionI am creating tutorials for my blog based on a book I purchased.  Do I need permission from the author of the book?

Answer:  No, permission is required to reproduce a part or the entire book, however you may use the ideas in the book, explain them to others and base tutorials on the contents of the book without permission. (2011-3)

Click here to learn more about copyright.


  1. Lesley says:

    Hi John, a company name is generally not protected by copyright. It may be protected by trademark law. You’ll have to do some research to see who owns the trademark to the name before using it.

  2. Lesley says:

    Hi Sue, the way that global copyright law works is that you apply the law where the work is being used. So if you are using US materials in Canada, you follow Canadian law.

  3. Lesley says:

    Hi Abi, different countries have different provisions in their copyright laws about what requires permission. In general, exceptions in educational institutions relate to classroom use of content rather than broader performances. You’ll have to look at the exact provisions in your country.

  4. Lesley says:

    Hi Kevin, writing something in your own words, even something that summarizes another piece of content, does not require copyright permission.

  5. John says:

    I want to make shirts that include a business name that went out of business in the 60″s. Unable to locate any existing owner or family of business. Am I allowed to print these shirts without obtaining permission? If I am allowed, can I copy protect or trademark the company name?

  6. Sue Petrykewycz says:

    I work for a textbook publishing company in Canada and we often use U.S. government material in the books. I know most (but not all) U.S. government material is in public domain in the U.S. Can this material be considered public domain (and therefore used freely) in Canada?

  7. Lesley says:

    Hi Ricky, you may use the information and facts from these existing materials but you may not copy these materials. You should become familiar with the defense of fair use under the US Copyright Act as it is a defense for copying protected works but only in certain circumstances.

  8. Abi says:

    Hi, I’m the head of my musical society at university and we’re looking to put on a musical. We can’t afford to buy rights to the musical and was wondering, if we put on the musical (without asking permission) and don’t make any profit from it at all (don’t sell tickets). Would we have to ask permission/buy rights?
    Abi x

  9. Kevin says:

    I am writing a book and wish to include plot synopsis’ of several existing movies, do I need to obtain any permission to publish these?

  10. Ricky says:


    I was thinking of creating elearning tutoring videos (for sale or ad profit) on various subjects based on college level classes on different subjects. How do I avoid copyright infringement of the base materials (textbooks, journal articles, published books)? I’m having a hard time differentiating research vs copyright infringement.

  11. Lesley says:

    Hi Josephine – yes, get permission in both circumstances.

  12. Lesley says:

    Hi Kat, as a copyright owner you have the right to prevent others from using your works without your permission. Providing credit to an artist is not a substitute for obtaining permission.

  13. Josephine says:

    Hi, two questions:
    If i decide to open up my own apparel buisness, and on one of the items of clothing i plan to make, i want to add a cartoon character from a popular show or another brand’s name for instance Adidas. would i need permission before doing so?
    Also if i wanted to create an app and wanted to make one of the themes based on a character from a cartoon show would i need permission for that as well?
    Thank you.

  14. Kat says:

    Hi, Lesley. I’ve had a company take a short poem I wrote and use it on a graphic they created to advertise their website. They gave me credit, but never asked for my permission. (To muddy the waters further, I am an artist and create typographic prints featuring my original writing and not only did they use my writing, they fairly closely copied my design in recreating their own graphic.) The company’s lawyers say there is no copyright infringement…but that’s the very definition of copyright infringement, right? According to what I read at, it absolutely is. Copyright law doesn’t say “if you give credit, do as you wish with it”.

  15. gökmen says:

    Hi Sue, suggesting works is allowed without copyright permission. Permission only comes into play when you are using a work in a copyright sense, i.e., reproducing it, performing it in public.

  16. Lesley says:

    Susan, look at the principle of fair use (assuming you are in the US) and see whether perhaps your use of the cover fits within the fair use conditions.

  17. Lesley says:

    Hi Carolina, you would have to look at the terms and conditions of the site where the free online wallpaper downloads are hosted. Certain uses may be free and others may not be.

  18. Lesley says:

    Hi Lena, ideas are not protected by copyright. If you merely use the ideas without reproducing the actual words and images there is no copyright issue. However, you may want to be careful about plagiarism as well.

  19. Lesley says:

    Hi “None” – as long as you don’t reproduce any copyright-protected works you do not need to obtain any permission.

  20. Lesley says:

    Hi James, you are not reproducing any copyright-protected works in your guide and therefore do not need to obtain any permission.

  21. James says:

    Hello I have a question that I couldn’t find an answer for in your previous answered questions.

    I have an ebook guide that I have written for a copyrighted computer software/game. This guide contains my own words only and does not include pictures or any part of the software. Can I legally sell my guide?
    Thank you so much!

  22. none says:

    I am thinking of creating quizzes for my sons class based on a magazine I need to ask for permission to do so ? What do I need to be aware of ?

  23. Lesley says:

    Hi Ariana, generally you do not need permission to summarize content and put it in your own words. Just make sure you stick to this plan!

  24. Lena says:

    Hello Lesley 😀
    I were thinking about making an arabic youtube video about stem cells
    I purchased books about the subject
    can I translate some of the book’s ideas into my video? Not literally “i’ll change the sequence and the words obviously”

  25. Susan says:

    Hi, we are doing a webinar for our audience (child care clients) and in it want to show a book cover for a book we are purchasing for all the programs to use. Do I need permission to show the book cover?

  26. Carolina Lavayen says:

    Would using free online wallpaper downloads as part of web banners be legal?

  27. Ariana says:

    Hi there,

    I would like to create an EBook based on summarizing a textbook, and then sell the EBook. I will be writing the content in my own words and using the textbook only as a guideline. Would I need permission or need to give credit to the authors of the textbook since I will be making money from summarizing it? Thank you.

  28. Lesley says:

    Hi Zuky, do you have permission to record the conversations? You may be violating privacy and contractual rights, in addition to copyright if the author reads parts of his/her works. There may also be ethical issues involved. Similar issues may arise in writing out the conversations.

  29. Lesley says:

    Hi Heidi, the book is yours and you may copyright it, and may register it as a whole work.

  30. Lesley says:

    Hi Beth, is there a copyright protected work in which you are seeking permission?

  31. Zuky says:


    I have attended many seminars from authors from across the world. And usually record the conversations from Speaker to Guest. And many followers will record their personal recording on youtube and broadcast them, as well. My question is, even though the Speaker has copyright regulations to not reprint their work.. do I have the right to type out the conversations recorded (between Speaker and Guest), word per word, and publish a book from that. Giving credit where credit is due?

  32. Heidi says:

    Dear Lesley,
    I am writing a series of short stories based on a famous Canadian. Do I need family/ estate permission before copyrighting book or do I require this only at the publishIng stage.
    Do I copyright all the stories at once or one at a time?
    That could get expensive if the latter is the case.
    Thanks very much

  33. Beth Rinyu says:

    I am hoping that you can help me. I am a fiction author. I am hoping to write my next novel about a character (fictional) that is a member of the New York Yankees. Is that acceptable or do I need to seek permission from their organization.

  34. Lesley says:

    Hi Sue, suggesting works is allowed without copyright permission. Permission only comes into play when you are using a work in a copyright sense, i.e., reproducing it, performing it in public.

  35. Sue Badeau says:

    I am writing a training curriculum for foster
    parents. Other trainers will be using it. Am I allowed to suggest that they
    show a clip from a movie or film as part of a certain segment of the training –
    if I suggest 2 or more options rather than “requiring” one specific clip, may I
    do this without requiring consent or do I need consent no matter what?

  36. Lesley says:

    Hi Iman, you can summarize information from books but when it comes to quoting or reproducing sections, you either need to make a fair use analysis or obtain permission.

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