Getting Permission: Where and how?

When Permission Is Needed

For the student that makes one photocopy at the library of a limited portion of a book or journal as research for a paper or class assignment, it is not necessary to get permission because this is clearly within the exception of fair use. As the scope of copying expands to multiple copies or posting a copy online, the fair use issue should rise to the occasion of a full, four-factor fair use analysis. If the copy project appears to exceed fair use parameters, then you should get permission. Here are some general guidelines for determining whether the project exceeds fair use outright and if permission should be obtained. You should get permission for:

  • Course packs or copies of textbooks, journal articles, or other materials that will be used as the sole course materials for any class in which a textbook is available and traditionally used.
  • Any copies that are sold or used in some commercial venture with no educational, research, or commentary purpose.
  • Any copies widely distributed or posted online that create a substitute for the original product that was copied.

Where to Get Permission

You have determined that you must get permission before you copy materials, but how and from whom? From whomever holds the copyright or has the right to give permission on the rights holder’s. The source and method of getting permission will vary according to the nature of the materials you wish to copy.

Print Media

Materials with text content that is published, such as books, articles, magazines, and journals—whether published digitally online or in hard copy—will typically be copyrighted in the publisher’s name. It is customary in the publishing industry for publishers to buy the author’s copyrights for a split of the profits or “royalties.” Therefore, you can always go directly to the publisher and seek permission, but the process has some drawbacks. Many publishers have no procedures in place to process permission requests. It is very time consuming, and many publishers may not even respond to the request. An agency may have authority to grant permission for the publisher. Most publishers are members of the Copyright Clearance Center, or CCC. Start your quest for permission there. Copyright Clearance Center
222 Rosewood Dr.
Danvers, MA 01923

You will need to establish an account and provide the following reference information about the materials you want to copy:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Book’s date or edition
  • Portion of the book you want to copy
  • Standard number or ISSN, ISBN, or LCCN

The process is expedited if you do it online, even getting permission nearly immediately in many cases. If the CCC doesn’t have the title you are looking for, then you must try and contact the publisher directly. Most information about the publisher’s identity and contact is on the same page as the copyright notice.

Images or Photos

You will have to go directly to the image’s artist, creator, or photographer for permission. Unfortunately, what you will encounter is little or no information about the artist or photographer, at least from the image or photo itself, because rarely is any information displayed on the image or photo. But you can greatly simplify the task of getting permission by choosing the images you want to use from a collection or database where the permission is either available under a subscription license or there is enough contact information to locate and contact the artist or photographer. All the photos you see in this website were chosen from either subscription collections or collections where the photographer could be traced and permission obtained directly. Here are some examples of image or photo collections online:


Nearly all music performances in public require permission. If you intend to play music in public, you will have to get permission beforehand. There are permission licenses for playing music on telephone hold, intercom systems in stores, restaurants, and other public places, and for jukeboxes in public places. All radio stations that broadcast music are required to have a license. Even nightclubs that hire bands for live music have to have a permission license if the band intends to play cover music, or music that is popular and protected by copyright. One licensing agency demanded that the Girl Scouts pay permission fees for singing copyright-protected music around their campfires. The agency representative was reported to have said, “They buy twine and glue for their crafts…they can pay for their music, too.” 1 All music is protected by copyright except for music that is in the Public Domain. See Music and Copyright. Of all artistic works protected by copyright, music is the most licensed and regulated. The most efficient way to get permission is to contact all licensing agencies. Several types of music licenses and songs are licensed by different agencies. These are the agencies that license most music in the United States: American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)
www.ascap.comBroadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
www.BMI.comSociety of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)
license@sesac.comHarry Fox Agency

Audiovisuals or Movies

Limited portions of audiovisual works may be performed for education under both fair use or the TEACH Act. Entire portions may only be shown for education or entertainment if you have permission. Here is an agency that may have the authority to grant you a permission license: Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC)

If you have problems getting permission through the agencies, you can always try to contact the publisher directly, but you will need much time, patience, and luck.

1 Zittrain: Call off the Copyright War, Seth Johnson