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Copyright: Permissions

Requesting Permission

If the work you want to use is not in the public domain or your proposed use goes beyond the limits of fair use or an available license, you should seek permission from the copyright holder.

Although you may make initial contact with a copyright owner by phone, you should secure permission in writing. Publishers and licensing agencies may have a form that they prefer that you use for requesting permission. Keep careful records of your correspondence in seeking permissions.

Your written request should be as specific as possible and include:

  • who you are
  • what work or portion of the work you wish to use
  • for what purpose you plan to use the work
  • for how long you wish to use the work
  • where and how the work will be used (classroom or online)
  • why you think this person can give you permission

NOTE: If you are dealing with photos or video of people, you may also need to consider privacy rights. The University requires written consent from anyone included in an image.

Locating the Owner

The copyright owner could be the original creator, the creator's heirs, or the publisher. Note that there may be several owners involved with one work. For example, in order to use recorded music, you may need to get permission from the composer, the performers, and the recording company; the copyright of a photograph in an article may be held by the photographer, not the publisher or author of the article.

To find the owner or owners,

  • check the copyright notice in the work
  • check the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress for any registration, but note that registration is no longer required
  • check with collective licensing agencies, which handle permissions for authors, artists, musicians, and other professions.
    The Copyright Clearance Center is the most commonly used licensing agency for academic authors and publishers, but check the complete list for specialized agencies for music, film, drama, stock photography, software, cartoons, religious music, etc.

Usually an internet search will be sufficient for locating an author or publisher, but sometimes the search for a copyright owner can become complex.

Sometimes it is impossible to identify, locate, or get a response from the copyright holder. If so, you are dealing with an "orphan work". In this case, you may

  • reevaluate whether your planned use is fair 
  • revise your planned use to fit within fair use principles
  • seek alternative materials

In any case, carefully document your attempts to seek permission.

Permission Letters & Release Form

Model Permission Letters
(Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office)

University of Missouri Photo Release Form


Nothing on this guide is to be construed as legal advice. These pages are intended to provide information and guidance in the application of copyright law and to expand on the University of Missouri System Collected Rules and Regulations.

Thanks to Miller Nichols Library of UMKC for permission to reuse material from their Copyright guide.