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Copyright, Fair Use & Creative Commons Licensing

A guide to inform faculty and students about copyright.

Introduction to Getting Permission:

Asking for permission to use a copyrighted work involves several steps:

  1. Finding out who the copyright owner(s) are.
  2. Contacting them with a specific request.
  3. Making sure, for your own protection, that you document what permission you requested and what permission you received.

Keep in mind that what you are getting from the copyright owner may not be a perpetual license, but a license to use a work in a particular situation, possibly for a limited amount of time. Should you wish to repeat this use, or change the conditions under which you will use the work, you may need to request permission again.

The copyright owner is entirely within his/her rights to ask you for a fee or to say no. These fees may or may not be negotiable.

Requesting Permission

The key to making a good request is being explicit and precise.  


  • Give the title and author of the work along with its publication information
  • Explain exactly what part of the work you wish to use, e.g. page numbers, elapsed time in a movie or video, measure numbers from a printed musical work
  • Describe the nature of your project (educational, scholarly, non-profit) and how you intend to use the work, e.g. reproduce in a printed pamphlet of 500 copies, or set a poet's words to music, or use the image in a published scholarly book
  • Explain when and for how long you intend to use the work and  if your use is more than just temporary.
  • Describe where the work will be used (territory is important for printed works; for internet use, note that you are asking for world wide permission)
  • Describe which of the copyright owner's rights, copying, distribution, making a derivative work, etc. you wish to use.
  • Ask how the use of the work should be properly credited.


  • Be vague or unclear about your use - this in itself is reason for the copyright owner to deny permission for your use.
  • Expect an immediate response.  But be prepared to be persistent.
  • Send permission letters to all possible rights holders.  This is not only counterproductive but a waste of effort.  Be patient and write to one at a time.