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Hamersly Library

.Copyright and Fair Use: Requesting Permission

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: THE CONTENT ON THIS WEBSITE IS INTENDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.

Requesting Permission

This page provides an overview of procedures for contacting and requesting permission from a copyright owner to use a copyrighted work. If you already know exactly what you want and are in communication with the copyright owner, you may go directly to one of the model permission forms.

Used under a Creative Commons BY license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director.

Permission Procedures

If you are just beginning the process, you may need to carefully consider the steps for securing permission, as detailed below:

Step 1: Contact the Copyright Owner
Step 2: Write an Effective Document
Step 3: Keep a Record
What If I Reach a “Dead End”?

Remember that permission is not always required to use a work, depending on the work you choose or on your intended use.

The process of securing permission may take more time than expected, or even worse, it may lead to a “dead end.” Therefore, start the process for obtaining permission well before you will need to use the work.

Based on and used under a Creative Commons BY license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director.

Step 1: Contact the Copyright Owner

Once you have identified the copyright owner(s), contact the owner to request permission. Publishers often have websites that prescribe a method for contacting the copyright owner, so search the website for a permissions department or contact person. Call the person or publishing house to confirm the copyright ownership.

Various collective rights organizations are sometimes able to facilitate granting permissions on behalf of owners. For a list of these organizations and more information, see Collective Licensing Agencies. If the copyright owner is an individual, you will need to do the usual Internet and telephone searches to find the person. Be ready to introduce yourself and to explain carefully what you are seeking.

Tips for Contacting the Copyright Owner

The copyright owner may prefer or require that permission requests be made using a certain medium (i.e. fax, mail, web form, etc.). If you do not follow instructions, you may not get a reply.

Telephone calls may be the quickest method for getting a response from the owner, but they should be followed up with a letter or e-mail in order to document the exact scope of the permission. E-mail permissions are legally acceptable in most cases, but getting a genuine signature is usually best.

The request should be sent to the individual copyright holder (when applicable) or permissions department of the publisher in question. Be sure to include your return address, telephone and fax numbers, e-mail address, and the date at the top of your letter or message. If you send the permission request by mail, include a self-addressed, stamped return envelope.

Make the process easy for the copyright owner. The less effort the owner has to put forth, the more likely you will get the permission you need. If you are using conventional mail, include a second copy of your request for the owner’s records.


State clearly who you are, your institutional affiliation (e.g., Oregon State University), and the general nature of your project.
Do not send permissions letters to all possible rightsholders simultaneously. Taking the time to find the person who most likely holds the copyright will better yield success. If you do not have much information about who actually owns the copyright, be honest with your contacts, and they may be able to help you find the right person.

Based on and used under a Creative Commons BY license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director.

Step 2: Write an Effective Letter

Once you have identified the copyright owner(s), contact the owner to request permission. Publishers often have websites that prescribe a method for contacting the copyright owner, so search the website for a permissions department or contact person. Call the person or publishing house to confirm the copyright ownership.

Various collective rights organizations are sometimes able to facilitate granting permissions on behalf of owners. For a list of these organizations and more information, see Collective Licensing Agencies. If the copyright owner is an individual, you will need to do the usual Internet and telephone searches to find the person. Be ready to introduce yourself and to explain carefully what you are seeking.

Tips for Contacting the Copyright Owner

The copyright owner may prefer or require that permission requests be made using a certain medium (i.e. fax, mail, web form, etc.). If you do not follow instructions, you may not get a reply.

Telephone calls may be the quickest method for getting a response from the owner, but they should be followed up with a letter or e-mail in order to document the exact scope of the permission. E-mail permissions are legally acceptable in most cases, but getting a genuine signature is usually best.

The request should be sent to the individual copyright holder (when applicable) or permissions department of the publisher in question. Be sure to include your return address, telephone and fax numbers, e-mail address, and the date at the top of your letter or message. If you send the permission request by mail, include a self-addressed, stamped return envelope.

Make the process easy for the copyright owner. The less effort the owner has to put forth, the more likely you will get the permission you need. If you are using conventional mail, include a second copy of your request for the owner’s records.


State clearly who you are, your institutional affiliation (e.g., Western Oregon University), and the general nature of your project.
Do not send permissions letters to all possible rightsholders simultaneously. Taking the time to find the person who most likely holds the copyright will better yield success. If you do not have much information about who actually owns the copyright, be honest with your contacts, and they may be able to help you find the right person.

Based on and used under a Creative Commons BY license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director.

Copyright Holders' Possible Responses

Sometimes you need to be patient and persistent, and sometimes the owner responds quickly. In any event, the reply can take any number of possibilities:

Permission Granted. Great news. Move to Step 3.

Permission Denied. Find out why. Maybe you can negotiate a better result. In any event, you may need to change your plans or look for alternative materials.

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., by copying fewer pages from the book or making fewer copies of the work).

Sometimes copyright owners require their own permission form. Read it carefully. The form may impose limits or include legal constraints (e.g., “You agree to be bound by the law of Oregon”) that are not acceptable to you. The decision to accept will be up to you, your counsel or supervisors, and your budget.

Based on and used under a Creative Commons BY license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director.

Step 3: Keep a Record

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

Why keep these records?

In the unlikely event that your use of the work is ever challenged, you will need to demonstrate your good efforts. That challenge could arise far in the future, so keep a permanent file of the records. Moreover, you 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.

Based on and used under a Creative Commons BY license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director.

What If I Reach a Dead End?

What can you do if you come to a “dead end” in your quest for obtaining permission for the use of a particular work? If you cannot find the owner or you are getting no reply, your work may be an “orphan work.” You have a few alternatives in that situation, as detailed here.

Based on and used under a Creative Commons BY license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director.