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Obtaining Permission to Use Copyrighted Material

In general, when using the work of others you must first determine if copyright permission is required. If the work is protected by copyright law, is not in the public domain, and does not meet the criteria for fair use or another specific exception in the copyright law, you must obtain permission from the copyright holder or its agent in order to reproduce or reuse the work.

You may need to obtain copyright permission to do any of the following:

  • distribute a course pack in print or electronic format
  • post content on an e-learning system
  • post content to an institution’s intranet
  • photocopy content for classroom use
  • photocopy an article for library reserve
  • borrow or lend material through ILL
  • reproduce an out-of-print book
  • use content in a private consulting engagement
  • republish content in a dissertation
  • use or republish content in university fundraising or recruiting, or in an exhibit
  • conduct research for non-classroom use (e.g., during an instructor’s private consulting engagement)

Even if an instructor creates his or her own work, he or she may not have the right to reproduce and distribute it. If the work was prepared as part of the instructor’s duties at Boise State, it may be covered by the work-for-hire provision in the Copyright Act. See 17 U.S.C. § 201(b). In this case, ownership of the materials may belong to Boise State, in which case specific permission to reproduce these materials may have to be obtained from the University. For more information, see the Boise State University Intellectual Property Policy and/or Idaho State Board of Education Intellectual Property Policy.

There are two primary options for obtaining copyright permission once the need is identified. You may either contact the copyright holder directly or use a licensing agent such as Copyright Clearance Center.

Obtaining Permission Directly from the Copyright Holder

Plan ahead when requesting copyright permission directly from the copyright holder. It may take several weeks—or even longer—to identify and locate the copyright holder and to receive a reply to your request. What’s more, contacting each individual copyright holder every time you require copyright permission may be a lengthy, time-consuming and administratively burdensome process.

For most print and online publications, the publisher is usually a copyright holder capable of providing permission. If you cannot identify the copyright holder, you may need to request a search by the U.S. Copyright Office. The Copyright Office can search only those works that have been registered. However, not all works are registered because registration is not a requirement for copyright protection. Publisher and author trade associations as well as online search engines are helpful resources for locating copyright holders. If a copyright holder is deceased, contact the executor of his estate.

At the minimum, your permission request should include the following:

  • your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address
  • your title, position, and institution’s name
  • the date of your request
  • the title of the work to be copied with a description and citation of that work
  • a description of how the work is to be used, by whom, and for how long
  • a signature line for the copyright holder to sign, signifying that permission has been granted

It is important to note that under U.S. law a lack of response from the copyright holder does not convey permission. In addition, some works may contain materials—text, images and graphics—from multiple copyright holders and may require separate authorization from each one. Also, simply acknowledging the source of content is not a substitute for copyright permission.

Obtaining Permission through Copyright Clearance Center

This document is based on a document produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a copyright-clearance service that provides a streamlined and efficient way to obtain permission to use copyrighted information in both print and digital formats. Using their services, you can access the usage rights to the most sought-after journals, books, magazines, and other copyrighted materials from hundreds of thousands of authors, publishers, and other copyright holders worldwide.

In many cases, Copyright Clearance Center can provide instant authorization for the use of copyright-protected content. If you need permission to use a title that is not covered in their catalog, they can attempt secure the rights on your behalf. Copyright Clearance Center also provides rights to use and share content published outside of the U.S.