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Copyright: Step 7: Consider seeking permission from the copyright owner

This guide provides information (not legal advice) to support NWC community decision-making in the use of copyright protected material in research, learning, and teaching.

Purpose of Guide and Disclaimer

This guide intends to refer NWC community users to accurate information. However, information received from the NWC Library or the NWC Copyright Librarian is neither legal advice/opinion nor legal counsel to the college or any members of the NWC community. Please contact the NWC Office of General Counsel or NWC Staff Judge Advocate's Office for NWC-related legal advice and interpretation of the law, or personal counsel for personal legal advice. The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by NWC of sites or the information, products, or services contained therein, nor does NWC exercise editorial control over the information found at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this guide. U.S. copyright law is subject to change.

When to Seek Permission

If an intended use of a copyrighted work does not fall under an exception in the code like fair use and is not specifically permitted under a license, one should identify and locate the copyright owner and make a formal permission request that explains the intended use as fully as possible.

Keeping a Record

Keep a copy of everything. If you successfully obtain permission, keep a copy of all correspondence and forms according to your department's instructions. Also, consider keeping a detailed record of your quest to identify and locate the copyright owner.

Why keep these records?

In the event that your use of the work is ever challenged, you may need to demonstrate your good faith efforts. That challenge could arise far in the future, so consider keeping a permanent file of the records. Moreover, you or a colleague might need to contact that same copyright owner again for a later use of the work and your notes from the past will make the task easier.

Securing Permission

A “non-exclusive” permission may be granted by telephone or handshake, but an “exclusive” permission or a transfer of the copyright must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner. In all cases, a clearly written document (preferably with a signature) is useful to confirm exactly what is permitted.

Some copyright owners (like publishers) furnish their own permission form that may be downloaded from a website. If the copyright owner does not provide a permission agreement form, you may use one of the forms referenced on the Permissions page or write your own email request using the forms as your template.

After writing a letter or email, sometimes you need to be patient but persistent, and sometimes the owner responds quickly. In any event, a reply to a permission request may end in a number of possible ways, including the following:

Permission Granted

Great news- follow the parameters set forth in the permission.

Permission Denied

Find out why. Can you negotiate a better result by changing portions of your request? You may need to change your plans or look for alternative materials (including library-licensed resources).

Permission Granted, but at a Cost

The copyright owner may charge a fee for the permission. You might obtain a lower fee if you change your plans (e.g., copying fewer pages from the book or making fewer copies of the work). Sometimes copyright owners require their own permission form. Please read it carefully. The form may impose limits or include legal constraints (e.g., “You agree to be bound by the law of the UK”) that may not be acceptable to you. The decision to accept will be up to you, your counsel or supervisors, and your budget. As an alternative, you may look for alternative materials (including library-licensed resources).

In some cases, you may never hear back. You may need to change your plans or look for alternative materials (including library-licensed resources).


Adapted from George Mason University CC-BY 4.0 International License