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Obtaining Permissions

Step 1: Determine if permission is needed
Step 2: Identify the copyright holder or agent
Step 3: Send written request for permission
Step 4: If the copyright holder can't be located
Step 5: Consult others as needed

Sample model permission letters

Permission from copyright holders is often needed when creating course materials, research papers, and Web sites. You need to obtain permission when you use a work in a way that infringes on the exclusive rights granted to a copyright holder, i.e., reproducing part or all of a copyrighted work outside the boundaries of acceptable fair use. The following is a step-by-step guide to aid you in planning strategies to obtain permission to use copyrighted works for educational purposes.

Top of Page Step 1: Determine if permission is needed for the work you want to use.

a) Is the material protected under copyright law? Remember some items (those in the public domain) are not protected by copyright, and may be used without permission from the copyright holder or payment of royalties. Knowing when a work was published or if legal requirements were met is helpful in determining if a work can be used without permission. See What types of works and information make up the public domain and Rules of thumb for public domain works.

b) Does the use fall outside the limits of fair use? After analyzing your specific situation by applying the four factors of fair use and concluding that your use is not fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Common examples that require written permission from the copyright owner include: copying for commercial use, unpublished works, some specialized works such as illustrations, and consumable materials, such as workbooks or standardized tests. See the guideline from the 1996 Policy on the Reproduction of Copyrighted Materials for Teaching and Research, Copying Requiring Prior Written Permission from the Copyright Owner.

Assuming the work is copyright protected and your use does not meet fair use criteria, the next step is to identify the copyright owner.

Top of Page Step 2: Identify the copyright holder or agent.
    For print publications, 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 publisher is not the copyright owner, they can probably direct you to the copyright 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.

    For more information on locating copyright holders and services and agencies that grant permissions, see Guides for locating copyright holders and Services and agencies.

Top of Page Step 3: Send written request for permission to use. Remember to give yourself ample lead time, as the process for obtaining permissions can take months. Decide if you are willing to pay a licensing fee/royalty.

    Your letter should include the exact material to be used, including title, author, and page numbers. Including a photocopy of the material is a good idea. Include the number of copies you wish to make, and the exact nature of the use, including how many times or how often the material will be used, the form of distribution, and whether the material will be sold. See the UC Policy and Guidelines on the Reproduction of Copyrighted Materials for Teaching and Research, Appendix 2, for more details.

    For more information on writing letters of permission, see (from the UCOP Office of Technology Transfer) How do I use something legally? and Sample model permission letters from other universities that can be modified.

Top of Page Step 4: If the copyright holder can't be located or is unresponsive (or if you are unwilling to pay a license fee), be prepared to use a limited amount that qualifies for fair use, or use alternative material.

Top of Page Step 5: Consult others as needed.

Contact your OTT Campus Contact to locate the office on your campus that can assist you in obtaining permission and in any contractual negotiations, including payment of fees and royalties. Check your Campus Resources to find out where to go for more help.

Additional Resources on Obtaining Permissions


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