This article also sets out how to contact a copyright owner to obtain permission to use their copyright-protected work and what to ask for. If copyright permissions is part of your regular job duties, then our new eTutorial, Obtaining Permission: The Copyright Permissions Request, is for you.
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 copyright corporate policy or procedure for your library or organization.
1. Determine if You Need Permission
- Do you need permission to use an illustration or photograph on your website or in presentation slides?
- Are you making multiple copies of an article for use in a seminar?
- Are you posting a video clip on your blog?
These are just some of the many situations in which you may be seeking copyright permission directly 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.
2. 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
3. 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
However you obtain the 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, considering including the following items in your copyright permissions request letter:
- A description of who you are
- An accurate yet 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. The rights holder, of course, may ask for payment for use of their work whether you offer payment 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 so it best fits your situation.
Dear Content Owner:
We understand that you are the copyright holder of an article titled “The Mountains of North America,” originally published in Great Parks Journal on pages 16–28 in the Fall 2018 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 1,000 members of the Mountain Association in California. The report will also be posted 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 Denson, 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.
Many universities and libraries provide samples of copyright permissions letters on their websites; for instance:
- This is a sample of a short, specific copyright permissions letter from Dartmouth College Library.
- Western University provides sample text for a copyright permission request.
- Columbia University Libraries provides a number of model letters.
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.