Frequently Asked Questions About Copyright Permission

Why do I need to get permission to use copyrighted materials?

Federal law grants the owner of a copyright specific rights to the use of his/her work. If you want to use one of those rights, and your use is not otherwise exempt (e.g. qualifies as Fair Use), you need to ask permission.

Do I need permission?

You do not need to seek permission to use works that are not covered by copyright or that fall into the public domain.

If, however, you are using or copying any portion of another person’s copyrighted work (whether text, images, music, film, etc), your use will fall into one of these categories:

  • Use is covered by the academic exemption for displays/performances
  • Use is covered by the TEACH Act
  • Use is considered Fair Use after applying the “four factors” test
  • Use is not covered by an academic exemption or does not qualify as Fair Use

If your proposed use falls into the last category, you must seek permission to use that work.

Will I have to pay for permission to use the work?

If the copyright for a work is owned by a publishing house or other corporate body, you will usually have to pay for permission. If, however, the copyright is held by an individual (and he/she is not well-known in any way), you may receive permission to use his/her work without payment.

It never hurts to contact the copyright holder directly to request permission without payment. Using a work for educational purposes also weighs in your favor.

However, you must allow ample time to receive permission – some rights holders are hard to find/contact, and some may not respond promptly. It is also possible that a rights holder will tell you to use a copyright clearinghouse to receive permission, or that you will be denied permission. In this case, you will need to take extra steps to procure permission – or find alternative materials to use. Give yourself 1-3 months to get permission.

Is copyright the only reason I need to get permission to use someone’s work?

No. Copyright is only one form of protection for intellectual property. Trademarks protect logos, brand names, slogans, etc that identify products and services. Patents protect the right to profit from a design or inventions. The Right of Publicity protects a person’s right to use his/her name or likeness for commercial purposes. If your use will potentially infringe on any of these rights, you will need to seek permission for that use.

You also need to seek permission (also known as “release”) if you are going to use material that could potentially violate a person’s Right of Privacy.

Can I use a work while I’m awaiting a response from a rights holder?

If your use is “spontaneous”, but does not otherwise qualify as Fair Use, you may use the material while you are awaiting response from a rights holder. If your request is rejected, and you are currently using the material, you must cease immediately.

Who pays the fees for permissions?

Currently, copyright fees are funded by individual departments. If the copyright fees are charged for the purpose of creating coursepacks, the Service Center reimburses departments for the copyright fees after students purchase the coursepacks.

How do I use the Copyright Clearance Center?

Practices may vary by department, but generally departments establish individual accounts with the CCC, or use corporate credit cards to charge fees. Faculty should consult with the administrative assistants in their departments to determine best practices.

For information on the CCC permissions process visit here: CCC Introduction