Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Copyright & Fair Use: Permission

Do I Need Permission?

So the work is not in the public domain, Texas Wesleyan doesn't have a license, there is no Creative Commons license on it, and your use does not qualify as fair use or fall under Section 110.

Its time to ask for permission.

Consider these steps for securing permission.

The creators are not always the authors. If it is a book, its most likely the publisher. It is still a good idea to contact the creator, because they may have the ability to give permission or can put you in touch with the correct rights holders.

Publishers often have information on requesting permission on their website, so search for the permissions department or a contact person that could provide the information. Make sure you have the exact address and name of the addressee; if necessary contact the publisher to confirm the ownership.  

If the copyright owner is an individual, you will need to search the internet for contact information. Be ready to introduce yourself and carefully explain your request. 

IMAGES may have more than one rights holder:

(1) the owner of the copyright (usually the creator or publisher)

(2) the photographer of three-dimensional artworks/objects 

(3) the owner of the physical artwork, if a high-quality image is needed


Finding Copyright Owners

Circular 22 from the U.S. Copyright Office has information on investigating the copyright status of an item. The end of the document is a form that can be submitted to obtain a search report on a specific item if you are having trouble locating information.

Copyright Office's Online Catalog contains records from 1978 to present that are registered with the Copyright Office. For information on items before 1978, you will have to contact the Office or request a hard copy

WATCH (Writers, Artists and Their Copyright Holders) is a database of copyright contacts for writers, artists, and prominent figures in creative fields.

National Association for Music Education's Copyright Center can provide guidance on locating owners of musical works, but may require membership for certain resources. 

Now that you have identified the copyright owner, you need to determine what you must include in your request. It is important to be clear and concise in your description of needs. Include all the rights you anticipate needing and all formats of the work you plan to use. Be sure to include that the work is being used for noncommercial, educational purposes. "Nonexclusive" permission may be granted over the phone or face to face, but "exclusive" permission must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner. 

Tips from Columbia University:

  • 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., Texas Wesleyan University), and the general nature of your project.
  • Do not send permissions letters to all possible rights holders 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.

The library has provided sample letters for use in various situations. In some cases, publishers have a premade permission form for requesters to fill out. Give specifics on Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why and be prepared to be patient in waiting for a response. 

Keep all copies of correspondence, permissions requests, and license agreement! Having these records is invaluable if a dispute arises and you have to defend your legal right to use the work. Keep a timeline of correspondence and any notes you have taken. These notes can also be useful if you need to request use of the item in the future.

If your request is denied, find out why. Everything is negotiable. Maybe you can use a different format of the work or change the duration of time it is used. Do not be afraid to continue the discussion if use of the item is important.

In some cases, the West Library can purchase rights or licenses to products. Please contact our Acquisitions department or your faculty liaison for more information.

The term "orphan work" is often used to describe a copyrighted work that has no identifiable or contactable rightsholer. Sometimes the name of the rightsholder is known, but additional details can not be found.

It can be difficult to identify the owner or rightsholder for a work. Records may not have been maintained after the creators death or after the organization that owned it dissolved. In this situation you can use the item and accept the risk that the copyright owner my identify themselves and object to the use. If you decide to take this risk it is important to include a statement on how a person can assert a claim of ownership. 

Example: "If you feel that this work is not in compliance with fair use, please write to ____________ at ____________. We will consider the concerns and make an effort to respond appropriately."

Special Cases

International Copyright

Per the U.S. Copyright Office:

"There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s writings throughout the world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the national laws of that country."

Different laws and languages make it difficult to research items that are created in other countries. Many countries, including the United States in 1988, have joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The Berne Convention is an international agreement governing copyright which was first accepted in 1886. The agreement extends the copyright term to life of the author plus 50 years, removed the need for formalities (i.e. ©), and automatically assigns copyright to a work.

If you NEED to use a work that is under international copyright consider some alternatives before seeking permission:

  • Use a portion of the work that could fall under fair use. The UK Copyright Service Fact Sheet gives information on what constitutes fair use in other countries.
  • Find an alternative from a U.S. source.
  • Rethink your use. Could you paraphrase or only use a small portion of the work?

Sample Permission Letters

The following permission letters from New York University and Columbia University have been adapted by the library to contain Texas Wesleyan University information. You are not required to use these letters and are free to edit the samples to suit your needs. All letters should be printed on Texas Wesleyan University letterhead which can be found in the University's Resource Toolbox.

Licensing Agencies

Want to Reuse this Content?

 This content is under a Creative Commons License that requires attribution to Texas Wesleyan University.