When You Need to Seek Permission, and Sample Permission Letters

When you need permissions for class, presentations, publication, or Reserves use, these resources may guide you. The U.S. Copyright Office has a significant online service, as does the Copyright Clearance Center. When using an online service, often you can get quick results. Remember that electronic resources licensed by Case and OhioLINK are authorized via an acceptable use policy for shared educational purposes in a password protected environment. In many cases, the source you wish to share for your class scenario has a stable url that you can simply copy/paste into an email or on a course management site. In an online environment, check the web page for acceptable use or permissions online.

If your use is not considered a fair use, you need to get permission from the copyright holder in order to use the copyrighted material. Remember that fair use is the exemption, not the rule, and is not automatic for academic use. Also:

  • The author may not be the current copyright holder. Publishers are typical copyright holders for printed materials.
  • Out-of-print does not mean out of copyright: under current US law, copyright lasts for 70 years after the author's or editor's death, longer for corporate authorship. Use the Public Domain chart to determine when works enter the public domain.
  • Public domain does not mean works found online. The Public Domain chart helps you determine when a copyrighted work is in the public domain, but some works are never copyrighted and can always be freely used without permission: federal government documents (not state or local), and works expressly given to public domain and so noted, and more recently, worked licensed under Creative Commons usage.

When seeking permission:

  • If you have decided that you you need to seek permission (not fair use situation when using a copyright protectedwork), then you need to determine who is the copyright holder and obtain permission:
    • Publishers most commonly hold copyrights to books and journal articles. Publisher websites link to their"Rights & Permissions" Departments.
    • U.S. Copyright Office may offer research help if the owner isn't clear; you can get Circular 22 "How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work"
    • The Copyright Clearance Center may be able to help you secure permission and/or direct you to the appropriate office (generally rights and permissions) of a publishing house.
    • The Author's Registry also has a page for contacting their member authors.
  • UT Copyright Crash Course Permission sources: various permissions, including media, images, music, plays, foreign collective, & freelancers
  • Request permission & allow time for response, documenting all correspondence:
    • The request and the permission must be in writing (two copies should be sent, so the rights-holder can keep one and return your copy. Requests via email or online are becoming popular; keep the response in print.
    • List all the citation information of the item and give the specifics of your use. A list helps the rights-holder understand your request quickly:
      • ALL instructor, institution information
      • ALL bibliographic information
      • Indicate in print or out-of-print
      • Specific # of pages (inclusive), figures, illustrations
      • Number of copies to be made
      • Use: alone or combined with other works?
      • Specific date(s) of use
      • Request for use in perpetuity, if you intend to use repeatedly
      • If electronic, the environment (password protected, IP restricted, etc.)

Plan ahead--online requests/responses can be quick but can also take time. A reasonable effort to locate the rights-holder is required. A refusal means that your use is not acceptable as planned, and a revision of your use may make your use fair. You can also conduct your own risk analysis in case of a refusal. Document all correspondence. Remember: permissions also can be fast, and free!

Sample Permission Letters

These are sample letters that should be modified for your particular situation. Brief, factual inquiries are easily read and are apt to be most quickly answered. Include a self-addressed return envelope if mailing your request. Online requests for permissions are becoming the norm, and brief email text is appropriate. Include a signature file on your email that indicates your title, department, and the university name.

When Permission is Denied

Have a plan for this possibility, assessing your risk. You can change your use slightly (hand out copies in class but do not also post electronically, for example), or narrow your use if it was very broad and ambitious and then review Fair Use again. You might use an alternative work. Last, most common in the case of a copyright holder that can't be identified, located, or one that does not respond to your request even though you have invested great effort and diligence in doing so, you should review your risk of using the work. The evaluation is yours, based on the thoroughness of your search, and weighing your benefit against possible risk is critical. Good faith is not protection from liability.

Kelvin Smith Library | 11055 Euclid Avenue | Cleveland, OH 44106-7151 | 216-368-3506