You may know it's important to seek permission before using copyright-protected content. But do you know how to obtain that permission? This article leads you through how to contact a copyright owner to obtain permission and what to ask for.
We also provide a sample copyright permissions letter below as a practical tool to guide you. You can tailor it to meet your needs when obtaining permission to use copyright-protected materials.
You may also like our eTutorial, Obtaining Permission: The Copyright Permissions Request.
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First, Determine if You Need Permission
Always assume that a work is protected by copyright, and then do your research to determine if that is indeed the case or whether you can use it without permission. If you're in doubt, the best course of action is to seek permission or find an alternative to using a particular work.
- Do you need permission to use an illustration or map on your blog or in presentation slides?
- Are you making multiple copies of an article for use in a seminar or to use as a hand-out at a conference?
- Are you posting a video clip on your company's social media?
These are just some of the many situations in which you may be seeking copyright permission from a copyright owner.
Check your country's copyright law to determine whether your particular use requires permission or if there's an exception in the law for it (like fair use or fair dealing). There also may be information on the work itself about whether you can use it and how, or perhaps a Creative Commons license that permits specified uses without obtaining permission.
How To Contact a Copyright Owner for Permission
Your library or organization may have a copyright policy or guidelines that sets out a corporate permissions procedure. It may even include a standard permissions letter template. If that's the case, ensure you comply with your organization's procedures and requirements.
If your organization doesn't provide such guidelines, the steps outlined below will assist you in obtaining copyright permissions. You may even create a customized procedure and template that could be the basis of a corporate copyright policy or procedure for your organization.
1. Identify Who the Copyright Holder Is
Your first step is to identify the copyright holder of the copyright-protected work you wish to use. Sometimes it's immediately obvious, as the work may include a copyright notice with their contact information. There may even be a link to contact the copyright owner.
Other times identifying a copyright owner requires more research. If you locate an image you wish to use through Google Images, there may be copyright and contact information attached to it. Some images that you find through an online search or on platforms such as Pinterest have a link to the source website where you can locate contact details.
If you're seeking permission to use an article, you may need to contact:
- The source magazine, book or website publisher
- A copyright collective such as the Copyright Clearance Center in the U.S. or Access Copyright in Canada.
- A representative of the copyright owner such as a literary agent, lawyer or heirs
2. Contact the Copyright Owner
How should you contact the copyright owner?
It depends on the information you have about them. There are a variety of ways to obtain permission to use third-party content. You could ...
- Telephone them (then follow up with a written permission letter)
- Email or mail a permissions request letter, including the details of your proposed use of the content
No matter how you obtain copyright permission, it's best to have a written document as evidence of the permission obtained. A copyright permissions sample letter is below.
What Your Copyright Permissions Letter Should Look Like
There are no standard forms or exact wording to use in your copyright permissions request letter. There are, however, a number of items your request should address. At a minimum, consider including the following items in your copyright permissions request letter:
- A description of who you are
- An accurate but brief identification of the copyright-protected material in question
- How you'll use the content
- Where you'll use the content (e.g., in a seminar, book, course materials or online)
- For how long you'll use the content
Whether you offer payment for that use is your choice. Of course, the rights holder may request payment for the use of their work whether you offer it or not.
If you're sending the permissions request by regular mail, include two copies of the copyright permissions letter and enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope for the convenience of the rights holder. If the request is by email, ask them to print the email, sign it and return it to you (scanning the signed copy is generally fine).
Copyright Permissions Sample Letter
Below is a simple copyright permissions sample letter. Use it as your starting point or template, and adjust the wording to best fit your situation.
Dear Copyright Holder:
We understand that you are the copyright holder for an article titled “The Mountains of North America,” originally published in Flowing Rivers Journal on pages 17–28 in the Spring 2020 issue.
ABC Corporation would like to include the above-mentioned article in a research report undertaken by our employees which will be distributed for free in print to the 1,500 members of the Western Ski Association in Utah. We will also post the report on our corporate intranet. Proper acknowledgement will be included with the reproduction of the article.
If you agree to provide us with permission, please sign both copies of this permission letter and return one copy to us by email (a scanned version is fine) or regular mail.
We appreciate your consideration of our permissions request.
David Patel, Permissions Officer
By signing below, I warrant that I have the right to grant the permission requested in this letter, and that I provide you with that permission.
Other Copyright Permissions Sample Letters
The above letter is one sample of a copyright permissions letter. By undertaking an internet search, you'll discover many different kinds of sample permission request letters. Review these letters and use them as inspiration for writing your own standard copyright permissions letter.
Dealing with copyright issues on a regular basis? The Copyright Leadership Certificate program teaches you how to deal with day-to-day copyright issues, including analyzing situations where permission is required and how to obtain that permission.